Thursday, October 06, 2011

WolfHound: A Russian film epic akin to Beowulf

WolfHound is a Northern Russian epic set in the 8th or 7th century. It is like watching The Epic of Beowulf but a Russian version. It is entirely a pre-Christian druid culture of northern Russia and whether you like Sword and Sorcery or are interested in the roots of early Russian Traditions, this is a great watch.

Our hero starts as a small child watching his father, the blacksmith, make a sword. A raid sweeps over the village and before the local druid can form the chant to protect them, he is killed, and everyone killed. The father, with his giant hammer, holds out longest and his killed by a man with a wolf brand on his hand. The boy, only six or seven, is sent to the mines, to be a slave until he dies.

Our full grown hero emerges, with RaggedWing, his bat companion,. We see him as he sneaks into the castle of Man-Eater, the lord who led the raid on his village. This is set in a time when you referred to your ‘clan’ not your nation, and the druid and ancestors of your clan watched over you. As he is determined to kill the Wolf, our hero calls himself Wolf Hound, on the giant hounds of Russia which are used to hunt wolves. He gains friends, saving one woman from rape, another from the dungeons where he was put, his eyes blinded because he built the castle for Man-Eater. This blinding has given him both prophetic sight and shaman powers of healing. Healers, in this time, are part medicine and part shaman. As later we find out when a woman is to be killed with an infant because the infant was a breached birth, and she delivered him. This, it turns out, is a sign of weakness on the infant (a boy who is too weak to come out of the womb), and turning of destiny by the healer, as the infant was ‘fated to die’ but lives.

The houses and even the great town and kingdom center is made almost entirely of split wood, with wooden streets and only the palace has stone floors and pillars. It is rustic, it is realistic. The daggers are pre-steel, often triangle in shape and the swords are for hewing not for cutting. WolfHound rises in both wealth obtaining a sword, a scabbard, horse and fur lined drinking bottle at a time when what you could carry was your possessions, and a gift was likely one of the few things you owned. Another example of how we have lost the meaning of things in this age (back when a ‘gift’ meant one of the few possessions of someone), is when a freed slave asks if the Princess is pretty and WolfHound gives her a coin, so she can see the princess. Another time, Wolfhound frees a slave who is persecuted for believing in the ‘true twin gods’ rather than the local gods. “A man should have the right to his own gods” Wolfhound says before buying the slave.

In battle, when Wolfhound ties back his long and ragged hair, then watch out! Having had many teachers, WolfHound practices the sword every night, and in saving the local princess from an assassins’ dagger, he gains favor but also a fever. This is a time when a simple wound lays a person up, pre medicine with nothing but ‘vitality’ to aid in healing.

In Europe this film was loved, rated five stars while in the US it got only 2 or 3 as an audience who is used to grand palaces and heroes who take multiple wounds but are unstoppable. This is however the 7th century where 60 people who make wooden walkways over the lake may be called ‘the Kingdom of the Lake People’ with a matriarch to lead. Or where old stone circles are a safe retreat but also a place where the ‘Old Gods’ reside and can be called upon. Even in the main city, WolfHound comes into a large circular building where twigs of rare trees are offered to the ancestors to warm them so they show favor on you.

I was fascinated by watching Russian bridal rituals, where the woman, after grain is poured over her, is placed into golden shackles after her head is covered with a bride cloth, to show she is pure and as her father shackles her, that she is bound for her husband only. She is now to travel to the next ‘Kingdom’ (probably about 100 miles away, but several nights and days of travel), to see her husband for the first time, who will guard her city and Kingdom. Having grown in favor, WolfHound is to be her guard. There are several threats and attacks as ‘The Wolf’ wants to kill or capture the princess, and her guard, Wolfhound is always in the fore of battle. The two grow in love over the trip, a doomed love as they can never be together.

One night a healer/vision woman sings a song (which eventually swells with that deep Russian bass). The princess wants to know more about this pretty song. The woman tells her it is the tale of a slave. One slave who took on the fiercest guard, fought him without weapons in a death fight and won. And thus he won his liberty and changed his destiny. It is sung by slaves and the oppressed to remind them that Destiny can be changed. This makes the princess love him all the more.
The feats we see and the song that is sung remind me of Beowulf, whose bravery is told in tale in the great hall. We hear that even his father, he was was the one man who could make a sword that would kill the Wolf. The Wolf seeks to free the God of evil Druids, who will make all humans slaves with these evil druids as masters. In order to gain power, he has given away his face, using only a mask for the rest of his life, as well as performing power rituals with blood. Of course, only the blood of the princess can open the prison of this God, and so epic battle ensue.
If you want a mindless action adventure story, this may not be for you. But if you want a sweeping Russian Epic, and experience what the tales of old, of Arthur and Beowulf might have been like, then this film Wolfhound is about $5 and definitely a high budget Russian experience at just over two hours.


cheryl g said...

This movie sounds like just my type. I love the fact that he has a bat as a companion, that is beyond cool.

Thanks for the review - this is definitely going on my watch it list.

SharonMV said...

I like too like the story. The part where he guards the princess on the way to he marriage reminds me of Tristan & Isolde (another doomed love). Thank you for the review and for telling the story in such detail.
The shaman - healers had a few herbs they could rely on. You definitely had to be strong to survive a wound or illness in those times.

I hope you are doing OK and can enjoy some more movies. We're actually having some cold weather (cold for Southern CA). Hope it's not too cold for you in Victoria.


JaneB said...

That does sound good! After the teaching week I've had, a movie sounds perfect...

Lorna, Bob and Liam said...

I'm glad you were feeling up to posting this... it's not that we prefer the "light" posts, just that we're glad there are moments of enjoyment.


Lorna, Bob and Liam

D. Emerson Evans said...

This sounds fantastic. The first part of your plot synopsis is a dead ringer for the 1982 Conan the Barbarian film, which makes me wonder if a written form of this saga was available to Robert E. Howard in the 1920s when he was first writing the character. I will definately track this film down.

Edit: Also available in the UK for 3.97

Elizabeth McClung said...

Cheryl: I love the bat too! As no one seems bothered I wonder if bats are ever pets in old Northern Russia?

SharonMV: Linda said 'sounds a bit like Princess Bride' and I think it was the type of arch-type story that Jung, Campbell and the film Princess Bride was based on.

Yes, healing comes up quite a few times and the idea of what is good v. bad medicine, also there is a circle arc to the story which again makes me think of Grendal or Arthur tales.

Jane B: Ahh, next is a book/collection review, but a good intellectually stimulating film is good too for relaxing.

Lorna: I like writing posts on a variety of subjects and having a routine partially back with a few workers who are regular help this as I am not always exhausted, also want to write more daily.

D. Emerson Evans: I did think that this would appeal to those who like Conan. The filming in Northern Russia is amazing, and it is one of the highest budget films from Region 5 in a while (USSR is region 5 for DVD and once I was so impatient I got it from Russia direct - a different film though).

Oh, the US version has English DUBS - AVOID! AVOID!

The types of houses can still be seen in films like 'The Winter War' - the war film about the conflict between Finland and Russia in 1942 - basic split wood roofs with low to the ground for heavy snow.

Neil said...

It sounds like an interesting movie, dear. However, if you want us to avoid the US version, why do you link to Amazon? Sorry, that sounds rude and snarky; but I'm not upset with you. Where did you get YoUr copy, please?

[Short pause while I go off to a library search] Argh! The movie is available from the library in Bienfait, Saskatchewan, but it's not available to my request... Guess I'll hae to haunt a DVD shop here in town and see what I can find.

It's nice to see that you're well enough to enjoy a movie. I pray that you can stay well, and relatively pain-free for a while.

Love and zen hugs,

PS: Lorna: I have sent you an email.

Noisyworld said...

I now know what to buy my friend for Christmas :)
Thanks Beth!

Raccoon said...

I've been off-line the whole weekend, getting a new computer set up and files transferred and programs added…

The temperature has been in the 60s, with scattered showers & clouds. You would have enjoyed the temperature, anyway.

I'm not very (at all) familiar with Russian history or mythology. "Darker Jewels" I think, by Chelsea Quinn Yarbo, although the main character is a vampire. I think I remember enough Russian to say "I don't speak Russian." But the movie sounds good. I'll have to see about picking it up.