A little Sergio Leone here, a little Sleepy Hollow there, a grand helping of late royal-era Gaul with its wigs and finery, and martial arts-style confrontations galore are all deftly melded in Brotherhood of the Wolf, an attempt to elucidate the French urban legend of the so-called Beast of Gevaudanoa giant, invincible, wolf-like creature that killed more than 100 people in the 1760s. One of the most expensive extravaganzas ever produced in France, Christophe Gans’ film borrows from many genres but infuses the hybrid with a distinctive, relentlessly flashy style.
Chevalier Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan), a boyish yet virile naturalist, has been despatched from his duties in the king’s gardens to track down the beast, and sketch and stuff it for posterity. He is accompanied by Mani (former martial arts champ Mark Dacascos), a Canadian Indian. De Fronsac takes an immediate liking to Marianne de Morangias (Emilie Dequenne, star of Rosetta), the spirited daughter of Count de Morangias (Jean Yanne, amusingly laconic). De Fronsac gets the cold shoulder from Marianne’s one-armed brother Jean-François (a snarling, imperious Vincent Cassel), who lives to hunt, fashioning his own silver bullets. The small town supports a suspiciously well-populated brothel where the dark, mysterious Sylvia (Monica Bellucci) tells fortunes and blandishes her pricey, possibly demonic, favour on De Fronsac.
As he hunter-naturalist, Le Bihan is always fun to watch, but he doesn’t burn up the screen in the same way as Dacascos, who gives a charming, classy performance. The shapely Bellucci lends over-the-top exoticism to the never remotely staid mix.France, 2001. English subtitles. Colour. Anamorphic. Dolby/DTS digital stereo. 142 min.