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January 31-February 6, 2007

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'Blood & Chocolate'

Photograph by Toni Salabasev
Waiting for the full moon: Head werewolf Olivier Martinez has his sights set on young Agnes Bruckner in 'Blood & Chocolate.'

Wolver

'Blood & Chocolate' gets hairy in Romania

By Richard von Busack


THE TITLE of Blood & Chocolate comes from Hermann Hesse (via Elvis Costello), which shows that director Katja von Garnier has some ambition. Working from a set-in-West Virginia young adult's novel by Annette Curtis Klause, Garnier takes her cameras to Bucharest, Romania, and does a superb job proving the local fancy that the city is the Paris of the Balkans. And von Garnier brings a woman's sensibility to this horror romance; she's more fascinated with a 19-year-old girl's fear of doing something animalistic than she is with the thrill of a pack of werewolves helping themselves to a human. Cheating the gorehounds, von Garnier tries to tease out the emotional meanings of a story of werewolfism.

Agnes Bruckner plays Vivian, an expatriate American working at a small chocolate shop. She lives in the home of her Aunt Astrid (Katja Riemann) and does what she can to forget how her whole family was wiped out back in the United States. We learn, rather quickly, that Vivian is the intended of Gabriel (Olivier Martinez), the leader of a pack of werewolves, who must change his mate every seven years in accordance with the ancient law of their tribe. For werewolves, they have very organized lives. The pack members hold down day jobs at Gabriel's absinthe distillery; they pick and choose when to transform. All gather for a group hunt in which they take out one human per month (not much provender for a pack of 40 wolves). For this monthly hunt, they always are served someone who deserves to be killed, such as a drug dealer who sells to children.

Despite this tidy existence, Vivian finds herself longing for finer things. She is surprised to encounter a graphic-novel writer, Aiden (Hugh Dancy), one night when she is prowling a church sacred to werewolves. He has intuited much of the lore of the wolves and is incorporating it into his newest book. An attraction grows, but Gabriel forbids it, and a conflict between the wolf-people and this one human breaks out into war.

Von Garnier helps herself to the arcades, alleys and nightspots of Bucharest and opens up the city without prettifying it. Whenever there's an ancient brick alley or Roman ruins, there's bound to be a clothesline hanging nearby. Still, the film has a young tourist's view of a city in which almost no one is under 25, and there's no language barrier. When a Romanian actor comes in, such as Sandu Oruia as a pharmacist with a werewolf clientele, a sardonic element shows up that is quite different from a romance in which only the really deserving are killed. It's always noteworthy to see a horror movie that wasn't been made by a barbarian. But the young-adult novel source shows through: Blood & Chocolate is too spicy for children, yet not spicy enough for adults. Von Garnier reuses a sequence of humans leaping, glowing and turning into snarling wolves. It's too pretty to have much of an emotional impact. They might as well be unicorns. Though you can argue that a lead performer's lack of inflection is a fair way to represent a traumatized character, Agnes Bruckner is so still and uninflected you can't figure out how she ever had any wolf in her. She's more sheepish than anything else.


Movie Times Blood & Chocolate (PG-13; 98 min.), directed by Katja von Garnier, written by Ehren Kruger and Christopher Landon, based on the book by Annette Curtis Klause, photographed by Brendan Galvin and starring Agnes Bruckner and Hugh Dancy, opens Friday at selected theaters.


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