Sunday, March 23, 2008

BROCELIANDE (2002) d. Doug Headline

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

While mankind still engages in brutal, vicious and loathsome behavior like terrorism and murder, at this stage of our uplift, we profess to be a more civilized version of the species homo sapien. That has not always been the case and humanity’s past is bathed in arterial spray due to our penchant for combining sex, blood, religion, art and violence. Creating a film that taps into our cruel but mystical past, draws upon some of the darkest wells of horror that men have known and brings forth demons buried in our racial memory. BROCELIANDE is just such a film. When it focuses on the mythical/religious roots of its story, horror and fantasy combine to generate a very potent force.

BROCELIANDE is the story of Chloe Severin, an archaeology student studying the Celtic history of Brittany at an impressive dig in the Broceliande Forest under the direction of Professor Vernet. A new student to college, Chloe soon meets Lea, Erwann, Iris and Gilles and becomes enmeshed in conspiracy, murder, Druidism and powers beyond her imagination. Before Chloe is aware, the Broceliande site becomes a labyrinth of schemers and monsters, all hungry for sacrificial blood and a chance at awesome power.

BROCELIANDE is typical of most French cinema in that it starts patiently, but rather than contemplate its thematic navel, the film builds a nice head of steam by combining some ornate interior and exterior sets, some luscious lighting that establishes palpable mood and builds upon some very good performances, principally Chloe played by Elsa Kikoine and Erwann played by Mathieu Simonet. Added to these strengths are some beautiful set decoration, powerful establishing shots of the set d├ęcor and a heroic score that taps into the sense of ancient mystery. In addition, BROCELIANDE draws its inspiration from a wide variety of films. Its “mysterious monster/malevolent myth” imagery and atmosphere seem derived from films like THE LORELY’S GRASP and many of the scenes of the shadowy creature’s villainous rampage appear to be an homage to that genre. BROCELIANDE also follows in the footsteps of “secret religious sect” films like THE WICKER MAN. Its story borrows heavily from that classic without being a remake. Layers of conspiracy peel back promisingly to provide a plethora of gently modulated thrills along the way. Finally, the sumptuous lighting, rich colors and ornate interiors mixed with macabre and occasionally grisly death scenes invoke the name of Giallo and call forth the spirit of Dario Argento. While this well is the one least drawn from, there is clearly a sprinkling of DEEP RED and SUSPIRIA at points on the path. For roughly three quarters of the film, all these strengths made BROCELIANDE visually impressive, viscerally entertaining and psychologically compelling. It is when this fine effort summoned the essence of two other films that it left me a bit disappointed.

In the last acts of BROCELIANDE, the action sequences were reminiscent of ALIEN, as Chloe, Professor Vernet and Iris dodge The Morrigan through the intricate tunnels of the underground Necropolis. This in itself wasn’t a bad thing, but whenever our “damsels in distress” were forced to fight off miscreants and monsters, they turned into ass-kicking toughies that recalled BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF. The hybridization of an ALIEN and BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF experiment hijacked this film away from its horror-fantasy artery and sent it spinning away through the twisting capillaries of an action film. All the patiently built mood and mystery went cold at this point and caused the horror pulse of this film to stutter and stop. Beyond that, like BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF, the action sequences were shot too close and edited too rapidly. At least there wasn’t any of the herky-jerky disease, but the damage was done. A beautifully crafted story about the darkest corners of our ancient psyche became a series of martial arts sequences and tore BROCELIANDE from its foundation as if it were a Kansas windmill in a twister, and what a shame it was.

BROCELIANDE may not have delivered the ending that it should have, but it does have an extras menu with two gems worth contemplating. One “short” film is called “The Meaning of Sacrifice” and it melds the deleted prologue of BROCELIANDE with a very lengthy and interesting “behind the scenes” look at how nearly every chapter of the film was created, paying particular attention to special effects and the staging efforts behind each shot. This first feature is nearly 60 minutes in length. The shorter offerring, but still nearly 30 minute featurette, is “The Making of Broceliande”. This is more a series of interviews with cast and crew and look behind the artistic and creative genesis of this film project. Both featurettes are fascinating and have English subtitles over French dialogue. The feature film can be viewed in French with English subtitles or dubbed in English. Make the effort to read the subtitles and enjoy the sonorous beauty of the native language of the cast and crew.

BROCELIANDE was not a bad film, and it is certainly worth your time. Unfortunately, this film was a really good example of how you can’t sample from too many inspirations or you are likely to swerve off course in some fashion. What made THE LORELY’S GRASP, THE WICKER MAN, DEEP RED and SUSPIRIA, and even ALIEN work so well is that all of those films stayed true to their story and direction. They finished what they started and as a result, we remember them with a smile on our faces and satisfaction in our hearts. BROCELIANDE was unable to fully deliver on its promise, but it is still head and shoulders above most drek available on dvd today and it is better to create a movie that is inspired by finer forerunners than to try and remake a superior film. Most of Hollywood still hasn’t learned that lesson yet, and they certainly should.

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