Blood and Chocolate

Here I am, reviewing a movie with blood in the title again. Unlike its predecessor, though, this one really isn’t very bloody. The title is from a line in Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf: “I had the taste of blood and chocolate in my mouth, the one as hateful as the other.” In case you never had to read that in school, it’s the story of a man trying to reconcile his cultured, rational side with the primitive, instinctual side. That’s definitely what our heroine, Vivian (Agnes Bruckner), tries to do in the film. It’s perhaps laid on a little thick in places, but overall, the struggle is worth watching.
As a girl somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, Vivian witnesses the deaths of her whole family, shot one snowy night by men who fear them for what they are: werewolves. (Sorry, apparently the term ‘loups garous’ is more politically correct these days.) Brought back to Romania, her birthplace, she is raised by her aunt and reluctantly caught up in the restrictive loup garou culture. From what I understand, the film is a pretty sanitized and very different version of the novel on which it’s based, so this may be one instance where it isn’t such a bad thing not to read the book first — lucky for me.
It’s mostly filmed on location in Bucharest, and now I want to go there. Nearly everything’s old, dirty, rusty, and/or is in bad need of a fresh coat of paint. Almost nothing is up to fire codes or handicapped accessible. But it’s all absolutely gorgeous and historical, and I just want to go stand in one of the town squares and drink it all in. As long as you don’t get on the loups garous’ bad side, it’s a great place.

See? Look how cool Bucharest is.

Vivian (who makes chocolates for a living) meets a young American expatriate artist named Aiden (Hugh Dancy), in Bucharest researching the legends of the loups garous for his comic book. (Sorry, graphic novel.) He’s instantly smitten, but Vivian knows that blood and chocolate don’t mix (no kidding) and tries to push him away. But you know he won’t meekly go away, and humans and loups garous end up colliding.
Their pack, so to speak, is now fairly small, and Bucharest is their last remaining stronghold. They must be getting terribly inbred, but perhaps that doesn’t matter so much with loups garous. Anyway, their alpha male, Gabriel (Olivier Martinez), has made strict rules to keep them hidden, and as insular as possible, emphasizing the bonds of blood above all else. They’re all expected to be loyal, obedient to their leader, marry within the family, and most of them all seem even to work in the same place, making absinthe, which is still outlawed in the U.S. Apparently being a loup garou is much like being in the Mafia. (I suppose ‘Mafia’ is politically incorrect now, too. Sigh. The mob, maybe?)
Vivian seems very cool and distant throughout the movie — not Keanu Reeves or Ben Affleck distant, because she’s not so wooden, but she does have something of the look of a lovely marble statue at times. Probably not too surprising given her upbringing, but she does occasionally seem a bit too stiff. Overall, she does a good job. I’m still not sure what to make of Aiden, though that’s no reflection on the actor, who also does quite well — the problem is that his character alternates between extreme brilliance and extreme stupidity, and there doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason. Once he finds out what’s going on, he very intelligently arms himself with lots of silver, and yet at one point he closes himself into an old confessional booth, thinking for some reason that a rickety, half-rotted wooden structure will somehow stop the furious wolf outside from trying to rip his throat out. (It doesn’t.) I can’t even tell you the biggest stupid thing he does, as that would ruin a major plot point. Suffice to say that he seems to have multiple personalities at times.
I’m giving this one three idols — a nice, average score for a a nice, average movie. The culture clash is a bit overdone, as mentioned earlier, and the loups garous tend to be so spoiled and obsessed with their own coolness that you’ll probably want to smack several of them. (They also don’t seem to have any over-forties around — maybe they don’t get to go out and hunt with the cool kids?) And they all seem to like jumping so much that they might as well be were-rabbits — it looks like they can only turn into wolves when they’re not touching the ground. I also don’t see how they can blend so well when apparently just a few drops of blood sends them into a frenzy. (Don’t get any bad papercuts around them.) But in spite of a few awkward moments and a vaguely silly transformation effect, it was a good and entertaining picture. Now I’m going to go check prices for flights to Romania.