From a documentary about a family reconnecting, we now go to a fictional tale of a young woman trying to find a connection. YKIFF concluded its first night of the weekend with the thriller Les Loups (The Wolves), a character study of a city woman and small island of seal hunters. Like American Sniper, anyone who watches this film is going to be split between those who love the film and those who hate the film. With a few exceptions, I’m going to ignore the political and moral issues of seal hunting and focus on the story of the film and the way it’s delivered. But even then, there is still a conflict of opinion. I’ll explain.
Les Loups takes place in a remote North Atlantic island town. It’s the kind of town nearly everyone works in the same trade. Not much happens beyond their usual routine. Imagine what big news it is when Elie (Evelyne Brochu) comes to town during the spring thaw. She claims she’s there to rest and yet she seems to be drawn to the seal hunters, always wanting to keep close watch of them. She is repulsed by seal hunting and yet she’s invested in the people. Soon, she draws in a few residents, especially hotel owner and pregnant Nadine (Cindy-Mae Arsenault).
But her appearance raises suspicions for many residents, especially matriarch Martha (Louise Portal). Why is she here during spring thaw? What is she doing taking pictures of the seal hunters? Considering the death threats they get, she suspect Elie might be in fact an undercover animal rights activist. Not helping are scenes of Elie breaking into to a hunter’s office and looking at his photos. But soon, Elie’s motives turn out to be way more personal.
Before watching this, I need to warn you of the seal hunting scenes. There are scenes where you see seal heads being bashed in and their insides gutted. It is gruesome and not for the faint of heart. At one point, a rookie hunter eats a raw seal heart.
Of all the films in the festival, this one is the hardest to state my opinion over. There are parts of the film that do work and there are ones that don’t work, which makes it so hard to say whether it’s good or bad. So I’ll talk about what I found good about the film and what I found…confusing.
What writer-director Sophie Deraspe does succeed in is capturing a realistic portrayal of community within an island town. When Nadine gives birth, the town gathers around like an extended family. Sure, they disagree amongst themselves, especially when it comes to Elie, but they remain close. Sure, some of them insult each other, but it’s their own unique way of expressing their bond for each other.
Also successful is Philippe Lavelette’s cinematography. He portrays the icy landscape with a pale beauty, especially in a scene where Elie and Lon (Gilbert Sicotte) crawl on the grass to watch a pod of beached seals.
The first problem with the film is Elie herself. Even though she’s supposed to be in her mid-twenties, she comes off as so naïve that sometimes she behaves like a child. Nowhere is this more obvious than in a scene where she tries to pet a beached seal. She can’t even take a hint when the seal growls at her. What is she, five?
Until near the end of the film, we have no idea what her motivation is, which kind of works against the film. It is a rule of film that a protagonist needs a clear motivation for the audience to connect with him/her. There are films that have found a way to break this rule, but this film is not one of them. Brochu is a good actress, especially in Orphan Black, but it’s hard for her to connect us to Elie when we don’t know why she’s here. We’re more likely to connect with Martha because she has a clear motivation. Sure, she’s invades Elie’s privacy to accomplish her goal, but at least we know why she’s doing it.
The biggest problem is the film’s confusing opinion toward seal hunters, assuming the film actually has an opinion to begin with. When we are introduced to seal hunters, one is giving his preteen son a swig of vodka that makes a homophobic comment to Elie. And then a hunter creepily leers at her. And then the film switches sides with the seal hunters, with Martha giving a speech calling for a cull to seals and the hunters getting death threats in the mail from protesters. And it switches back, with a frightening scene of Elie being threatened by two hunters. I can’t tell whether Derapse is taking a side for or against seal hunting? Is she even taking a side at all? It’s hard to tell.
Even more frustrating than a bad film is a film so barely close to being a great film. At least with a bad movie, you know where you stand with it. But with a film like Les Loups, it’s so much harder to know what to make of it. Films like these have the potential of being a great film, but their missteps get in the way. It’s hard to say whether to call it a good movie or a bad movie. I’m going to say fans of mysteries may like this film. Real life seal hunters may find this film less judgmental about their profession, maybe even sympathetic to their trade. I’m not so sure.