Judge Neal Solon takes off au Grand Nord Blanc to investigate this flat French Canadian thriller.
"Why lie about the dog? You lie all the time! Everything you say sounds
like a lie."
Wolves in the Snow is French-Canadian director Michel Welterlin's first feature film. The disc refers to the film as a "Coen Brothers-influenced throwback to classic thrillers and noir crime stories." Somehow, this debut falls short of its lofty aspirations.
Facts of the Case
Lucie (Marie-Josée Croze, The Barbarian Invasions) and Antoine have been married for years. Neither has lived up to the other's expectations, and Lucie has just forced Antoine to confess that he's been unfaithful. In a fit of rage, she smashes in his head and kills him. As the story unfolds, Lucie discovers that if she hadn't killed Antoine, someone else would have done it in a matter of days. He had been leading a double life, and had been stealing from the criminals who were helping him lead it. With Antoine gone, Lucie's now stuck in the middle of his mess, and the hole she's digging keeps getting deeper.
For those unfamiliar with the organization, Film Movement is a company, in many ways, like a "book of the month" club. It selects one film each month, puts it on DVD, and sends it to its members. It provides access to independent films that members might not otherwise see, and provides exposure to films that that are looking for an audience. Wolves in the Snow was Film Movement's selection for August 2004.
Talking about Wolves in the Snow is a challenge. The problem lies in the fact that the film tries to be too many things at once, and wholly succeeds at few. Beyond being pretty, Wolves in the Snow ends up being little more than an amalgam of its influences without their soul or their writing.
Wolves in the Snow devolves into a film driven by inane choices; a film about Lucie constantly digging herself into a hole from which she has no exit strategy. In doing so, it becomes a middle-of-the-road thriller. Any tension or anxiety the film creates is quickly lost as Lucie's choices become increasingly asinine, and as one begins to realize that, inexplicably, she will somehow escape any personal consequences.
That said, there's plenty of potential here. The acting is solid. Both Marie-Josée Croze and Jean-Phillipe Ecoffey (No Man's Land), who plays the man who helps lead Lucie astray, give great performances considering what they have to work with. On top of that, the movie is quite visually appealing. The cinematography is beautiful. The colors are intentionally dark and moody. The shots of urban Canada convey a "Great White North" that few Americans think about.
In the end, however, the film just falls short. It falls short of its aspirations, of its potential, and of your expectations. As for the whole "influenced by Joel and Ethan Coen" claim, Welterlin and his writers ignore perhaps the most important aspect of Coen Brothers films: the eccentric, singular characters. The Coens' success does not stem from making throwbacks to "genre" films, but rather from their explorations of eccentrics within those genres. Here, we end up with an artificial story based around artificial characters and their increasingly artificial decisions.
Like the feature film itself, the presentation here is a bit uninspiring. While the video and the audio are both clean and effective, the video is non-anamorphic and the supplements leave a lot to be desired. The only context for Wolves in the Snow comes in the form of a brief essay in the liner notes by the director, and brief biographies of the director and the two main actors. The only other supplement is the most interesting, but the least relevant.
On each of their releases, Film Movement includes, in addition to any other extras, a short film. The short film on this disc is Eva Sack's Colorforms. Clocking in at just over seven minutes, the film focuses on a young girl who is, in many ways, too colorful for her parents. In an effort to rein her in, her parents make her spend the day with her grandfather. She has always seen her grandfather as the prim and proper man that her parents know, but as she spends the day with him, she learns that there is more to him than meets the eye. Ultimately, these seven minutes are the most interesting on the disc. Colorforms may not be worth the price of the disc on its own, but it is immensely entertaining.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Honestly. Film Movement. I'm watching one of your discs. Do you really think that I need to watch a two minute long, inescapable commercial telling me all about your company and about how to get your discs? The previews I understand. But this…this I don't need. Really. I promise.
It is bizarre to think that as the criminals in this film sped south toward the border, they were heading for the US rather than Mexico. Apart from a few quirks of that nature, Wolves in the Snow fails to offer the viewer anything new or novel. It's unfortunate that this film didn't live up to its and Welterlin's potential. It's not that it's bad. It's not. It's just not great. I wouldn't be surprised to see interesting things from Welterlin in the future, but for now, your time may be better spent elsewhere.
Though the court is leery of letting Michel Welterlin and Film Movement off scot-free, there's just not enough incriminating evidence here. It cannot be proven that anything they've done is strictly illegal. Be advised, however, that the court won't be so gentle should either appear before us again.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Film Movement
• Cast and Crew Biographies
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