I recently discovered that Monica Bellucci is one of my longest-standing crushes. Obviously I was familiar with her recent roles in movies like Shoot ‘Em Up and The Matrix sequels, but I didn’t realise she also played one of the “Brides” in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, back in the day. I was a big fan of that film when it first came out… and I was very happy to find a trading card of the Brides in the one and only pack of those things I ever bought with my pocket money (along with a slightly less interesting “costume design” sketch of one of their dresses). Good times.
I only mention this because I’ve just watched another “period” horror flick featuring the bella Bellucci… namely Brotherhood of the Wolf (aka Le Pacte des Loups) (2001). For those who don’t know, this film is loosely based on a real-life series of killings that took place in 18th Century France, and follows the adventures of a royal trouble-shooter named ‘Grégoire de Fronsac’, and his faithful Iroquois “brother” ‘Mani’, as they attempt to untangle the mystery surrounding an ambiguously identified animal known as “The Beast of Gévaudan”. In between hunts, Fronsac romances the chaste daughter of a local count, and falls under the spell of a sultry courtesan, who’s the star attraction at their friendly neighbourhood brothel. Can you guess which one Bellucci plays…? Despite being a historical drama, which frequently references actual figures from the time, the writers also saw fit to spice things up with kick-ass martial arts sequences, CGI creature FX, and Native American magick! Bless ‘em. The title led me to expect a fairly straight werewolf story, but the reveal of the “Beast”, and her true provenance, is far more inventive and intriguing than that. I don’t want to say any more though… all I will say is that I thought it was a fantastically entertaining genre-mash-up, and I’m a little annoyed at myself for taking so long to see it. Apparently there’s a two-disc version of this DVD out there in other regions with deleted scenes and other fancy features on it, so I’m rather envious about that. All I got here was an interview with the author of the non-fiction book that “inspired” this particular tale… and he’s an interesting guy, but he didn’t actually work on the film itself, so his interview is a tad tangential!
Bellucci’s character takes a little while to warm up, but when she does, she’s pretty awesome… for reasons I can’t really go into here, without spoiling the story. Sequels are rarely the equals of their predecessors, but in this case I’d gladly advocate for the filmmakers to return to this particular well, and show us what ‘Sylvia’ got up to next. This film also features Bellucci’s real-life hubby, Vincent Cassel, rather heavily… although they don’t really share many scenes together, as he plays the possessive brother of the hero’s main love interest, and doesn’t seem to have much interest in other women! Normally I’d be quite jealous of Cassel for his relationship with Bellucci, but he’s such an engaging actor, and he gives such a great performance here, that it’s impossible to bear a grudge against the guy. And it can’t be much fun for him, seeing his wife writhing around on the screen with another man! Being in the biz himself, he’s probably done his fair share of sex scenes too, though… so it probably balances out.
Stray observation: While watching this film, I realised that one of the reasons why I like French cinema so much might be because a lot of the actors have big (i.e., proper) noses, just like mine… hurrah!