Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Neil Jordan's 'The Compay of Wolves', 1984

Well, I REALLY loved this film! I was brought up watching films like 'Labyrinth' and 'Return to Oz' so I've always really enjoyed the fantastical fairy tales that have a bit of darkness in them and this film was like that but for adults!  

The first thing that really charmed me was the repeated use of traditional fairy tale imagery. In the opening sequence of the film there was a wolf-like dog running through a wood and it passed, at seperate times, a rat, a toad and a crow, animals usually associated with fairy tales, these were the sign posts of what to expect and I was not disappointed.  The imagery continued as we entered Rosaleen's dream, where we were placed, with her, in a small village of peasants surrounded by a dark and dangerous forest.  During her time here we were also told stories from her granny about men who are 'hairy on the inside'.

This was the first time we'd really seen the effects the film could afford and I have to say, considering it was all puppetry, I was REALLY impressed! I know it's obviously aged a little over time but I think it's still a very graphic sequence in which the internally hairy man changed into the wolf.  I found myself looking away for certain parts of it and if that isn't effective puppetry I don't know what is.

On the subject of the 'wolf-men', through out the film we're being told not to trust men whose 'eyebrows meet'. The storyteller, Rosaleen's grandmother, constantly warns her to 'beware men who are hairy on the inside' as they 'drag you to hell with them' and to 'never stray from the path' or she'll be 'lost forever'.  Though these are obviously very appropriate for the fairy tale content but the underlying message is her protection of Rosaleen's sexual innocence. For her to never stray from the path into the dark forest of new and strange discoveries where these 'wolf-men' will feast on her innocence and leave what remains when they've had their fill.

However, due to her being pubescent and just starting to become curious about her sexuality, she's very easily lead by what she doesn't understand. Especially a very handsome stranger that she stumbles across in the forest who wants to race her to her granny's hut and have a kiss from her if he wins. This has extremely sexual connotations and when she meets him in the cabin we're assured of this even further, as you can see in the above image and his undressing of her shawl.  A quote from the review in Empire has a very concise view on this image, that "the hood can be taken for the female hymen and the wolf male lust" so his removing of her shawl is seen as a very symbolic way of him taking her sexual virginity.  Although he is very predatory at first and very intimidating to Rosaleen she finds strength and stands up to him by shooting him. He then cowers away from her and turns into a wolf, crying.  She somehow finds sympathy for the creature and by the time anyone finds her she's become a wolf with him and they escape together into the night. One very interesting quote I found on the subject was from Niall Scott: "If a young woman opts to embrace her sexuality - if she gives into her desires and becomes master of her flesh - it is she who is transformed." I believe this is very effective here as she's obviously given into him sexually but not through him forcing her, she is transformed, through her own choice, into a sexualised wolf.

The end of this film returned us to the present day with the girl sleeping in her bed, and awakended from her dream by a large wolf crashing through her window. She's left screaming and we're left feeling a little unsure as to what was real.  Cristina Bacchilega's interpretation of this ending was really interesting, that "the young girl appears again as a victim of her sexuality and of deadly appetites".  That despite her conquering her fear of sexuality and all these new changes she is returned to the scared victim that her sister was portrayed as at the beginning of her dream.

I'm still raving about this film now and it's been days since I watched it. I loved the imagery and the symbolism of it all, it's theatricality and wonderful visuals made from a small budget was really inspiring. so I can't wait to see what else is next!

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