When the weather turns gloomy and wet, with rain pelting the roof and a fire crackling in the wood stove, it’s time to break out “Le Pacte des Loups (Brotherhood of the Wolf).”
I suppose you could classify this strange French historical fantasy-horror/martial arts movie as a guilty pleasure. But that would imply that I feel guilty about loving it so much. Which I don’t. BTW, I always watch it in French with English subtitles; the dubbed version just doesn’t cut it.
The story is based on the legend of the Beast of Gévaudan, which terrorized the rugged French province for several years starting in 1764, savagely mauling its victims, mostly young women. The Chevalier de Fronsac is dispatched from Paris to investigate the killings and to capture or slay the Beast. Fronsac is a naturalist who has spent years on the North American frontier — a man of science and a notorious libertine. He is accompanied by his Mohawk friend Mani.
Along the way lie lust, love, and a grotesque evil worse than the ravages of any Beast.
The film is visually lush (and no, I’m not just talking about the luscious Monica Bellucci) and atmospheric. The forested mountains of the French highlands are dark and foreboding, as wild in their way as the Canadian forests Fronsac and Mani explored and fought in during the Seven Years War. The troops called in to hunt the Beast are colorful and the strange clan of gypsies of the forest is downright lurid.
“Le Pacte des Loups” requires a fair bit of willing suspension of disbelief. It is a heavily-stylized historical fantasy, a dark and grim (Grimm?) fairy tale. Some of the weaponry and martial arts are over-the-top and from a historical perspective I have to view the setting as an alternative 18th Century.
It’s not perfect, even taken on its own terms. But I don’t care. There’s nothing else quite like it, and nothing more fun on a cold, wet, dreary night, when you know damn well that a Beast lurks in the forest, just beyond the lights of the manor…