Gallic Kicks

'Wolf' offers stunning visuals, martial arts, cheesecake. What more could we ask?

Aren't the Americans and the Japanese supposed to be in charge of producing junk culture for the entire planet? I mean, if I want to see a buddy cop movie with lots of kung fu fighting and giant monster wolves and one of the buddies is a mystical Native American warrior and they have to fight against a cabal of lingerie-clad prostitute/assassins, well, I would probably not be looking in the French section of the cinema supermarket.

But apparently the French have had it with arty movies about sensitive men who are emotionally destroyed by beautiful but blank women. Recently, in an admission of the fact that it is no longer the 18th century, the French have begun imitating our junk culture, and have begun to produce the kind of movies that would normally feature a super-team-up between Mel Gibson and Jet Li.

Thus, Brotherhood of the Wolf, which is a cross between a Japanese Manga, an American superhero comic book and a Jack Chick tract.

The basic plot: In the mid 1700s, some kind of giant monster wolf is killing folks in the south of France. The king decides that this is very much not bien, so he sends international adventurer and man of mystery Gregoire de Fronsac to investigate. De Fronsac brings along his buddy Mani, a Native American with superpowers and, like, really deep, soulful eyes. While de Fronsac delights the southern nobility with his urbane wit and philosophical acumen, Mani stares deeply into the spiritual realm and kicks ass with his awesome kung fu moves.

But super-powered, racially diverse buddy cops do not, in themselves, a movie make, so, in an almost unprecedented plot twist, it turns out that one of the local noblewoman is both beautiful and is in love with de Fronsac, giving this story what the 18th-century French nobility called "a romantic subplot." It's not really much of a subplot, though, as the noblewoman, teenaged beauty Marianne de Morangias (who's played by teenaged beauty Emilie Duquenne) is pretty much there for the sole purpose of breathing heavily while wearing a tight bodice. If you've never seen this particular "special effect" it's well worth looking for, as it displays one of the more enticing properties of the human body.

Since Marianne is so uninteresting, there's another love interest tossed into the pot: Sylvia, an Italian prostitute who falls in love with de Fronsac while de Fronsac is out participating in the ancient and noble art of whoring. Since Marianne is too young and beautiful to give it up, de Fronsac does a lot of whoring, and he and Sylvia (Monica Belluci) become close. He learns from her that there is more to this killer wolf thing than meets the eye.

Warning: The next two paragraphs contain a "spoiler," i.e. I give away a little bit of the plot that's supposed to be secret. So don't write whiny letters to me complaining that I ruined the movie for you. In fact, you should probably read movie reviews after you've seen the movie, and then write whiny letters to me where you complain because I likened your favorite movie, Jurassic Amistad VII: Raptor's List, to the stuff that lives under dog poo. OK, the spoiler: The wolf is secretly controlled by a cabal of papists who are out to discredit the king. Yes, evil papists with special wolf-controlling powers. Only they've gone renegade, and are doing a little more killing than the pope would care for. Like most popes, or, I guess, most mainstream Catholics, he just wanted to have his giant monster wolf kill a dozen or so people and then stop. So he's sent in one of his prostitute/assassins to take down his special task force of wolf-controlling killers.

Frankly, as someone who was raised Catholic, I must say that the depiction of the papal-sanctioned, lingerie-clad, prostitute/assassin was the most convincing I have seen in modern French cinema. Many is the time that I, as a young penitent, would go into the confessional and be greeted by the welcome sight of one of the pope's beautiful prostitute/assassins, who would "forgive my sins" in the most joyful manner possible. Thank God that this previously secret aspect of the world's largest religion has now been brought to the fore. I can only imagine that the publicity that this generates will bring an inrush of converts so as to swell our ranks and defend the True Church against the creeping threat of Protestantism.

OK, so, welcome back to those who skipped the last two paragraphs. You didn't miss much, I promise. Anyway, Brotherhood of the Wolf, in spite of being so junky that it would make Jerry Bruckheimer blush, has some of the best cinematography I've ever seen.

In American movies, the cinematography is usually technically stunning, with perfect sweeps and crane shots that travel hundreds of feet through the air and flawless focus pulling and crystal-sharp production. In foreign films, the emphasis in cinematography is more on finding beautiful content and framing it as well as possible. Brotherhood combines these two schools of filmmaking to produce some of the most stunning and technically adept camerawork you're likely to see this year.

So if you're in the mood for a buddy movie with kung fu and giant monsters and lots of chicks in lingerie, and you've been thinking "I should really give some country besides Japan and America and Taiwan and Hong Kong some of my hard-earned moviegoing dough," and you don't mind learning a few things about the Catholic church, then I heartily recommend that you get really drunk and go see Brotherhood of the Wolf. It's loaded with purty, purty pictures.

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