France has a population of 59 million people, most of whom are gloomy, arrogant, dangerously oversexed, and drive like lunatics. French men sometimes have girl’s names, like Marie. French women sometimes look like French men. Despite these drawbacks, the world has always revered the French for their impeccable sense of taste and culture. Seeing “Brotherhood of the Wolf” (Le Pacte des Loups), however, makes it very easy to question what has happened to the French sense of art.
Directed by Christophe Gans, the movie attempts to retell a highly implausible “true” story. Apparently, in 1765, a wolf of mythical proportions ravaged the rural French village of Gevaudan. The wolf stalked and brutally killed women and children while they wandered in the woods. History books record over 100 killings by the ferocious “Beast of Gevaudan” throughout a three-year cycle of attacks.
As if this story is not already unbelievable enough, “Wolf” screenwriter Stephane Cabel exaggerates the tale beyond belief. The cast of characters is random at best: the Iroquois Native American Mani, for example, pretends he cannot speak French for half of the film and then begins to speak the language fluently. In addition, he knows more martial arts than Bruce Lee and can kill 50 armed Frenchmen with one hatchet.
The film begins with the brutal murder of a French woman in Gevaudan around 1766. The killing itself resembles a scene out of “Jaws.” Since the people are so afraid of this beast, the king of France, Louis XV, employs the services of Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) to eliminate the problem. De Fronsac’s acceptance of the king’s offer marks the beginning of an erratic plot, wherein his first action is to bring along kung fu expert Mani (Marc Dacascos) to investigate the origins of the beast.
While enjoying the lovely company of the local aristocracy, de Fronsac and Mani discover that the beast is actually the creation of a local cult who bred an “unknown” animal in Africa and trained it to kill on command. The members of the cult include local farmers, merchants, and even members of the aristocracy themselves. The group, under the guidance of Jean-Francois de Morangias (Vincent Cassel) and the local Catholic Church, attempts to use the “Beast of Gevaudan” to fuel the French Revolution.
If the plot sounds simple, it is because I have left out the many random scenes and extra footage that have no place whatsoever in the film. But there are some scenes and characters that you might find amusing. Case in point: for every 20 minutes that pass in the film, the audience is rewarded with a 15 minute cut to a random local brothel. There, the queen of prostitutes, a “lady” from Italy, “entertains” our main characters. She even comments on Mani’s admirable Native American tattoos. Amazingly, she also turns out to be a trained assassin sent by the pope to — wait for it — purge the local Catholic church of corruption. In her crowning moment, “Wolf Queen” Sylvia (Monica Bellucci) cuts open de Fronsac’s naked chest, licks the knife clean, and, while smiling, utters, “here’s a scar to remember me by.”
Despite these character anomalies, the film is still only barely enjoyable. Plagued by an overuse of slow motion juxtaposed with blurry fast-forward, the movie could easily have been edited from a ludicrous two-plus hours to an acceptable 20 minutes.
At one point “Wolf Queen” Sylvia warns de Fronsac that the women of Florence poison their husbands with a slow-acting compound before they leave for work in the morning. This ensures that they will return at night to receive the antidote. “Brotherhood of the Wolf” begins to poison the audience the moment the previews begin. The only cure is the relief the credits bring.