An Alternative Guide to Great Movies: The Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001)

Monica Bellucci in the French blockbuster Brotherhood of the Wolf. Photo: Pathe

Monica Bellucci in the French blockbuster Brotherhood of the Wolf. Photo: Pathe - Credit: Archant

Films with re-watch value, movies with a unique quality, will become the classics of the future. Arts editor Andrew Clarke presents a series of idiosyncratic suggestions for movies that may entertain if you are in the mood for something different.

Samuel Le Bihan in the French blockbuster Brotherhood of the Wolf. Photo: Pathe

Samuel Le Bihan in the French blockbuster Brotherhood of the Wolf. Photo: Pathe - Credit: Archant

The Brotherhood of the Wolf; dir Christophe Gans; starring: Samuel Le Bihan, Mark Dacascos, Jérémie Rénier, Vincent Cassel, Monica Bellucci, Emilie Dequenne, Jean Yanne, Jean-François Stévenin, Johan Leysen, Bernard Farcy, Edith Scob, Jacques Perrin. Cert: 15 (2001)

French cinema has an undeserved reputation for being slow, deep and more interested in ‘Art’ than entertainment, now with The Brotherhood of the Wolf we can lay that absurd myth to rest.

This is France’s idea of a big-budget summer blockbuster – a glorious melange of historic epic, action-adventure spectacular, lusty romp and martial arts movie – all delivered with great class.

Monica Bellucci in the French blockbuster Brotherhood of the Wolf. Photo: Pathe

Monica Bellucci in the French blockbuster Brotherhood of the Wolf. Photo: Pathe - Credit: Archant

Based on a French legend The Beast of Gevaudan, the film tells the story of what happens when the French court hears that a strange beast was roaming a remote district of France, killing more than 60 women and children but also paying special attention to tearing out their hearts.


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So, the local worthies call in the eminent naturalist Gregoire de Fronsac (Le Bihan), who arrives with his American Indian blood brother Mani (Dacascos) and, with the help of a young aristocrat (Renier), starts to examine the evidence on the ground.

Unhappily, his discoveries don’t please the local political leaders, and it quickly become apparent that there is something more than the supernatural going on in this rural corner of France. Fronsac doesn’t believe in fairy stories.

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One evening, he passes around a trout with fur, from Canada, which causes his dinner guests to gasp in wonder until he reveals it is a hoax. “The Beast is a weapon used by a man,” he observes. But, the big question remains who and why?

Mark Dacascos in the French blockbuster Brotherhood of the Wolf. Photo: Pathe

Mark Dacascos in the French blockbuster Brotherhood of the Wolf. Photo: Pathe - Credit: Archant

Just in case the mystery or the fight sequences or the attacks by the mysterious creature get too overwhelming, we and Fronsac get distracted by the charms of Monica Bellucci as a mysterious courtesan. Is she there to steer us away from wicked scheming by the landed gentry and what role does Emilie Dequenne’s beautiful noblewoman play in all this? It must be important because her brother is the evil and always creepy Vincent Cassel.

Directed by Christophe Gans, this is an exuberant film that revels in the atmosphere and setting of its story. It plays like a historical drama but looks like a horror film. It is structured like a finely-tuned suspense mystery but is littered with dazzling martial arts action scenes.

The nature of the beast itself is interesting and is well-realised. Even when we finally get to see it we are never entirely sure what we are seeing. Half hidden in the damp shadows of its lair, it is a wonderful testimony to the skill and artistry of the Jim Henson Creature Shop but is it supposed to be a real animal, or a mythical creature or a man-made construct? Gans cleverly keeps you guessing until the end.

Unusually, for an action-packed blockbuster plot and character development mean a lot. If you don’t pay attention then it’s easy to get lost. Then if you stray from the path who knows what will happen. Happily we have the engaging central characters to hook us into this strange and curious story. But, what also keeps us locked on the screen is the unmistakable feeling that no-one is exactly who they seem and if we look away then we may miss something exciting.

Vincent Cassel in the French blockbuster Brotherhood of the Wolf. Photo: Pathe

Vincent Cassel in the French blockbuster Brotherhood of the Wolf. Photo: Pathe - Credit: Archant

Gans clearly relishes the opportunity to do something new with the format of French period drama and loads it with myth, fairy tale and what should be a clash of genres but instead we get a film which is fresh and explodes with ideas and imagination.

The visuals and the camerawork are gorgeous. You can feel the wet, damp atmosphere of the story closing in around you as you watch the film. The well-designed interiors are all lit by gorgeous candlelight. The attention to detail is stunning. The sets have a genuine lived in feel, rather than an artificial ‘stage’ look about them. These naturalistic – albeit glamorous – locations are given an added believability by the committed performances by the cast. Gans gives the film a brooding, unsettling feel which is relieved by moments of mayhem.

The Brotherhood of the Wolf is the sort of film that you can lose yourself in. It has bags of character and story and makes many Hollywood blockbusters appear very pedestrian indeed.

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