by Kristi Mitsuda
Blood and Chocolate
Dir. Katja von Garnier, U.S., MGM
A teenage girl’s coming-of-age tale in werewolf’s clothes, Katja von Garnier’s Blood and Chocolate, based on a book by Annette Curtis Klause, is a risibly flawed amalgam of assorted generic clichés—if curiously ambitious in the number of archetypal themes pursued. Set in modern-day Bucharest, the film features Vivian (Agnes Bruckner, playing off her moody adolescent from Blue Car), who works in a chocolatier by day and by night attempts to keep her ravenous cousin Rafe (Bryan Dick) and his gang of five from assuaging their animal instincts; that is, when she’s not obligated to attend full-moon gatherings in the woods where a human sacrifice gives the group an opportunity to bond under the auspices of pack leader Gabriel (an aptly scurrilous and cheesy Olivier Martinez).
A fount of copious diatribes against man (dubbed variously “meat” or “menace”) and upholder of this most sacred law—to hunt only in packs (read: an endangering groupthink)—Gabriel must take a new mate every seven years (guess who’s the lucky girl?) for the prophecy to come true: the dawning of the Age of Hope. But casual lip service paid to tradition and a quick nod to ritual with the group’s collective bow down to Gabriel, hair swept dramatically to one side, as he stands atop the monthly meeting rock, seem like so much mumbo jumbo and lack the fervent religiosity the German filmmaker hopes to ascribe. What makes, say, Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles work is the author’s explicit thinking through of creature mythology. Here, the vague references fail to help develop the werewolves’ background or grant them a realm of their own—a sense of which becomes necessary if we’re to take all the self-importance seriously. And that the music and lo-fi effects seem to date the movie back to the Eighties doesn’t help either.
Orphaned at a young age—her parents murdered by men who discovered their lupine origins—Vivian feels acutely the need to hide her identity and prescriptively represses her feral nature, playing a conflicted and saturnine Louis to Rafe’s reckless Lestat. This sets up the main divide, exacerbated when, of course, she falls in love with a human. Fulfilling every pubescent girl’s “Dear diary” imagining, Aiden (Hugh Dancy) pursues her after a late-night meet-cute in a church where his research for a new graphic novel has taken him, and though she resists at first (her family has plans for her, she demurs) he perseveres, leading soon enough—strange and misplaced as it may seem—to a romantic-moments montage, in which the happy couple splashes amidst puddles and fountains, sidestepping the deeper sexual implications of her half-beast heritage in favor of cuddly playfulness.
When her cousin discovers the relationship (provoking one particularly grueling exchange: says Rafe of Aiden, “He’s a rare find, isn’t he? Medium rare”; Vivian: “Go to hell”; Rafe: “I probably will”), the movie takes off in a West Side Story (minus the singing) direction with the man/werewolf split meant to correspond to forbidden interracial romance. Playing off the fantasy genre’s timeless malleability, Blood and Chocolate uses the star-crossed affair to address issues surrounding self-defining adolescent rebellion (“I know what it’s like not to want what they want for you,” Aiden earnestly declares, as if this applies equally to a werewolf) and further elaborates into a screed on the dangers of unthinking conformity to authoritarianism. Characters constantly speak in metaphors (i.e., Vivian doesn’t love the hunt so much as the “running free”), and the film scrambles at the last minute, during the extended denouement, to cram as much meaning into this supernormal story as possible. But Buffy this ain’t. Striving witlessly for relevance, the attempted parallels flounder because the skimpy details and clunky direction leave the numerous thematics unsupported. And if Blood and Chocolate wants to play on so many allegorical fields, it might address the question of what it means—in a movie meant to affirm individuation (Girl power! Pursue your own path!)—that our heroine must deny an essential part of herself if she wants to get with the guy.