Le Pacte Des Loups (France 2001)

Rating: ***
Alternate Title: Brotherhood Of The Wolf (U.S. Title)
Review Date: 1/12/02
Producer: Samuel Hadida
Director: Christophe Gans
Music: Joseph De Luca
Fight Choreography: Philip Kwok
Cast: Samuel Le Bihan, Mark Dacascos, Vincent Cassel, Emilie Dequenne, Monica Bellucci

After working on the phenomenal "Crying Freeman" (1995), Hadida, Gans, and Dacascos team up again for this bizarre French horror mystery film. A town in 18th century France is plagued by a vicious beast who hunts and kills women and children. Naturalist Grégoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) and his Native American companion Mani (Mark Dacascos) are sent from Paris to investigate and kill the beast. While popular opinion is that the beast is a wolf of some kind, Fronsac's investigation leads to something much larger, and of possible supernatural origin. During his investigation, Fronsac also has time to fall in love with the beautiful Marianne (lovely Emilie Dequenne), as well as lay with a mysterious and dangerously seductive prostitute named Sylvia (stunning Monica Bellucci). As he and Mani hunt the beast, they learn that it's just a pawn in a much larger game.

As expected from Gans, the film is absolutely gorgeous to watch - the cinematography is amazing, and the art direction and locations are breathtaking. Joe De Luca's score nicely compliments the rich visual texture of the film. All of the actors are great. Samuel Le Bihan and Mark Dacascos work very well together, and you truly feel their bond of brotherhood. And of course, with all of the anti-Indian sentiment in the film, it's the French who turn out to be the real savages. Italian actress Monica Bellucci is AWESOME. Her presence is dangerously overpowering, and she effortlessly dominates everyone in every scene she's in. Whenever she's on film, she literally owns the movie. Simply astonishing. The action scenes are quite good, but fall victim to poor editing. Having a good choreographer and talented stunt players isn't enough - you also have to know how to capture and construct a fight sequence cinematically so that it works both logically and aesthetically. So many times filmmakers will hire talented Hong Kong martial arts experts, and then spoil their work by not knowing how to film and edit it. As frustrating as the editing may be, you can still catch glimpses of brilliance from Philip Kwok and his stunt players. Wushu expert Mark Dacascos is always enjoyable to watch, and performs his action scenes with an excellent combination of power, grace, and agility (and he's got a great body, too). Although the majority of the action falls on Mark's shoulders, I was very impressed to see Bihan step up to the plate in the second half of the film. While not as graceful and efficient as Dacascos, his fight scenes are certainly more savage and intense.

With so many good things going for the film, I do have a few gripes. Even apart from the action scenes, the editing in the film could use some help. The overuse of modern time-scaling techniques is annoying, and freeze-frame editing severely interrupts the flow of several sequences (this is a French period piece, not a car commercial). While there were some very interesting and creative transitions, they often times didn't work very well. The film also suffers from some pacing problems, and the middle of the film seems to drag considerably. It's also during this part that the cohesiveness of the story, and of the film, seems to fall apart. Fortunately, the exhilarating slam-bang climax of the film helps you to forget about that. And finally, on a purely artistic level, the film seemed unnecessarily graphic and gruesome in spots. I'm kind of a wimp anyway, and there were a few scenes of cruelty and brutality that I definitely wanted to look away from. Despite my gripes, I found the film quite refreshing and enjoyable, and I eagerly await future visions from underrated director Christophe Gans.