In the Belgian production The Empire of Wolves (L'Empire des luops, 2005), Anna (Arly Jover) is having a medical or psychological block in her memory, so is undergoing experimental treatment. She does realize she's being used as a guinea pig, but grasps at the hope that the experimentation will keep her from losing more parts of her memory, her sense of self.
Periodically she forgets even that Laurent (Phillip Bas) is her husband. And yet she holds herself together sufficiently to run a pastry shop.
Over a subtly sinister "delightful" dinner she's stressed trying to hide memory lapses. It's all very Luis Bunuel, even before we begin to experience, with Anna, her first hallucination of feasting among corpses.
Her husband is a policeman, as are many of their friends. As it happens, a serial killer is on the loose, targetting Turkish women among migrant workers, a case that holds the interest of these cops.
Jean-Louis Schiffer (the always marvelous Jean Reno) is a cast-off cop who used to work the Turkish quarter. A younger cop, Paul Nerteaux (Jocelyn Quivrin), seeks his advice & Jean-Louis ends up tagging along on the case, unofficially of course. He's most helpful in his rough crude "oh, that's why he lost his job" manner.
Schifflers a borderline psycho himself, pursuing the serial killer in directions unexpected. His ideas of the case lean heavily toward a conspiracy such as only a lunatic like Schiffler could possibly have stomach & stamina sufficient to penetrate.
Meanwhile, Anna makes an incredible discovery about herself, which induces her to execute a bold escape from her purported husband. And a whole group of men prove clearly willing to kill her rather than permit her escape. With help from her friend Mathilda (Laura Morante), Anna begins to piece together the incredible reality of her creation.
[SPOILERS ALERT!] The two plot threads of Anna's journey of shocking self-discovery, & Schiffler's paranoic search for a serial killer, collide upon the realization that the presumed killer is a ruse or cover-story for failed & discarded experiments on women. Convincing a mad scientist (Didier Sauvegrain) to reverse the memory exchange process, Anna recovers her true identity, & her purpose.
"I preferred being Anna Heymes," she admits, for now she must reclaim her former life as a well-honed killing machine in order not to be recaptured. By a coincidence that beggars belief more than do the science fiction elements, Schiffler turns out to be her partner in that former life. [END SPOILERS ALERT]
Good casting & good acting really helps to sell this nonsense, though it never ceases to be quite a silly film. Also patching over the silliness is excellent cinematography that often lingers on faces whether beautiful or horrific.
The violence & FX get extravagant as the climax ascends, but this alas is harder for cinematography & acting to disguise, so it seems especially idiotic, as it's too much like tacking a scene from Indiana Jones onto the end of a paranoid thriller. It all works better whenever a scene is reliant on Arly Jover & Jean Reno to convince us it's suspenseful.
It has some of the retro thrills of an old pulp novel about an arch fiend master criminal, replete with xenophobic subtexts, governmental super-conspiracies, two assassins who worship a horrific idol, a trust-no-one certainty, a secret society with malice toward all, & ultimately, the femme fatale as hero. If asked to sit through this film a second time I'd definitely say, "Please for god no," but I got a good measure of entertainment from seeing it once.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl