Wolves in the Snow (Des Chiens dans la Neige)
Film Movement // Unrated // $29.99 // August 1, 2004
Review by Don Houston | posted April 26, 2005
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Movie: These days, it seems the state of independent films is becoming rapidly co-opted by corporate interests, a phenomenon that occurs in all media by the looks of it. Look at the number of product placements in said films, the increasing number of films that are "sponsored" by outside interests (often failing to reveal said sponsors), or the manner in which so many film festivals seem to pick titles to showcase. That is why it is increasingly important that true movie fans support the independent movie (rather than see the trends continue). One company that has taken a step in the right direction is Film Movement. The company offers a subscription service where you'll get a movie a month for a pretty low cost. The movies are from all around the world and show movies in a far more realistic manner than the latest Hollywood blockbuster would ever dare to attempt. The latest movie I picked up from their collection was Wolves in the Snow (Des Chiens dans la Neige), the eight title in year two of the series. The movie itself was a crime drama but the themes were definitely more a study of human nature than I've seen in a while, with a protagonist making choices you'll be screaming at before long. Here's what the company says about the movie:

"Wolves in the Snow begins with the news that Antoine has been cuckolding Lucie for years. A violent marital argument ensues resulting in Antoine's death. After lying about Antoine's whereabouts, Lucie discovers his secret life of gangsters, money laundering and violence. Followed, threatened and badgered by the gangsters, Lucie becomes trapped by her deceit. The body of Antoine disappears, other corpses appear, and the money, very quickly, becomes only the pretext of an alarming turn of events, in which Lucie learns how to lie, to live, and perhaps also to like. Wolves in the Snow is an intense drama set against the backdrop of Montreal."

Lucie is the typically vacant-minded housewife, browbeaten for years by Antoine. You pick that up almost immediately by the multitude of details woven into the sets, the script, and the background of the situation as much as by the argument the couple has so early in the film. Out of sheer anger, she kills him but regrets her decision like so many protagonists before her. She doesn't want to go to jail but she also doesn't want to report him missing, something that would lead to her act being discovered. Her choices become limited fairly quickly when a couple of crooks threaten her in regards to her husband. Apparently, he had been laundering money for them and like most such crooks, skimmed a little off the top before getting greedy. The short of it is that they want their money and he appears to have skipped town so they'll take their pound of flesh out of her, the mistress, or anyone else that gets in their way. Terrified at the prospect of being raped, beaten, and eventually killed, she lies and builds a web of deceit that all of us (as impassionate observers) know will have deadly consequences.

Okay, I don't want to reveal a lot of spoilers so that's as much as I'll say about the specifics of the movie. The character of Lucie was more complex than most than the film noir genre this movie seems to pay tribute to and that complexity allows the viewer to read a lot into what she does. The manner in which she and criminal Ruben both try to play one another made the story a notch above the average suspense drama. While I was almost certain of the outcome that never happened, I enjoyed the manner in which director Michael Welterlin weaved the elements of the story into a tight knit story (appearing to be substantially influenced by the Coen Brothers). Lucie's flaws made the story far more interesting than if it had been played more contemporarily and Welterlin uses those flaws to examine the soul of those that would disregard the time tested laws of consequence. In short, she pays the price for her deceit even though she did not initially know about the money. I usually prefer the glossed over characters that movies portray as having no significant flaws but that's an escapist fantasy many of us share so Lucie (and the others) added a dimension of realness missing elsewhere.

The story was not without flaws though and I only wish more effort went into polishing it up by the edgy manner in which the story was unveiled certainly gave me pause (not to mention adding replay value). This isn't the type of movie you'll find at Blockbuster or Hollywood Video but it had enough merit to allow me to give it a rating of Recommended for all it's minor flaws in the story telling process and I look forward to seeing what director Welterlin comes up with next. While not as strong as the usual Film Movement release, for me at least (keep in mind that I'm not usually a thriller buff), I think they chose well here in an effort to get the movie released (something the big production companies tend not to do unless the characters are all sweethearts, raving psychopaths, or if the story is a rollercoaster ride full of one dimensional characters).

Picture: Wolves in the Snow was presented in its originally filmed 1.78:1 widescreen color. The visuals lent themselves to the gritty story with an equally dark and grainy appearance. If this one had been clean looking and devoid of the rougher look, it wouldn't have been nearly as effective at telling the story although I've long been a fan of clean visuals. I saw no compression artifacts or video noise but the colors seemed somehow muted which may have also been done on purpose to show the morality of the characters and their situation.

Sound: The audio was presented in 2.0 stereo in its original French. There were optional English subtitles that weren't too imposing (and thankfully, they were easy to read) but my French is limited so I can't speak to how accurate they translated the vocal track. The audio itself also lent itself to the movie but there wasn't much separation between the channels and the dynamic range wasn't as solid as it should've been. The score was interesting, especially for a lower budget release, and also contributed to the mood of the movie as well as the manner in which the characters acted. The DVD box indicated it was closed captioned for the hearing impaired too.

Extras: One of my favorite extras on the Film Movement series is the inclusion of a short film on each DVD. This DVD had one called Colorforms, completely unrelated to the children's toy for those who care, by director Eva Saks. The story revolved around a messy little girl and her seemingly uptight grandfather after she proves too much for her parents to handle. There was also a set of trailers in a montage form, three biographies, and a double sided DVD cover that provided some background information by director Michael Welterlin.

Final Thoughts: Wolves in the Snow was a character study as much as a suspenseful thriller on the human condition. While it was by no means perfect, I don't think it would have succeeded if it had been. The movie wasn't overly upbeat, didn't have characters that always made the "right" choices (why is it that Hollywood dwells on sympathetic characters who seem to do so?), and didn't look like it cost twenty million dollars to make, I found it well worth my time so I Recommend it to you if it sounds like something you might enjoy.

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