Today I watched Christophe Gans’ Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001)
Set in France of the Seventeenth century where a strange mythical beast ravages the countryside of the Gévaudan area. This monster attacks peasants and spreads the fear of god throughout the countryside, many believe it is an evil wolf. Our protagonist is a classic European adventurer named Grégoire de Fronsac, the King’s personal naturalist who fought against British forces in the Americas and is a libertine philosopher to boot. He and his Iroquois companion Mani come to work on this whole beast issue, and they disagree with the common wolf theory, but the nobility of Gévaudan continue with their excessive wolf hunts. Meanwhile Fronsac woos a young noblewoman named Marianne, while also seeing an Italian courtesan who might be a super spy. But as Fronsac’s investigation into the beast continues, evidence begins to lead towards a conspiracy, someone is commanding this monster, but who?
So first things first, lets talk about the character of Mani. He is a rather troubling character, though I use this term instead of offensive because I doubt any ill will was meant by it. The problem is in how absurdly cliche he is, an overproduced and token native character that shows no real understanding of real native cultures. Its all that spirit animal, master of the wild type nonsense but in the character’s defence, he is supposed to be a cool, strong, handsome, and wise guy, even if that wisdom is a trite cliche. He also gets to be the focus of this film’s greatest anachronism, he knows kung-fu, for no reason what-so-ever. I think the real problem with this character is not the offensiveness of the character himself, the problem is in the expectation characters like this create, the expectation that this is real Native American culture and the expectation that real Native artists work should be in keeping with this absurd caricature. This unfortunatley is a real expectation that contemporary Native American artists struggle against constantly and we would not expect, say, a French artist as being a humanist, free thinking, Parisian libertine just because they were French… or would we?
Anyways, this ends up being a rather minor point in the film for me, because, like I said, there doesn’t seem to be any malicious intention there and the cliche character does fit what this film ends up being really about. And this film is really just about the zany genre mashup that the plot offers, sure there are hints of a humanist ideal as the world transitions from one of superstition to one of reason but this does little more than to paint the intentions of the protagonist and villains. This film is about how it blends the horror elements with an early modern European costume drama with a kung-fu flick of all things. Ganz actually does a great job at tying everything together and giving the diverse elements the time they need to be fully developed.
To this end the film delivers some great imagery and strong production values, backed up by some very decent performances. Questionable Native American portrayals aside, this film delivers some really entertaining content and does so in a very unique way, despite combining some very populist genres, Ganz makes it unique and expresses an individual sensibility you won’t see elsewhere. For that I recommend this movie, but if you know more about Iroquois culture and customs I would love to hear a more informed take down of Mani’s character. So yeah, watch this movie, it’s too unique not to form your own opinion on, at the very least the action is quite exciting. 4/5