BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE (Katja von Garnier, 2007)
Woe is the teenage werewolf caught between her love for a human and her community's contempt for mankind. For Vivian (Agnes Bruckner) in BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE, the dilemma is magnified. More than her lupine cousins, she knows the danger in revealing her true identity. Her childhood runs through the Rocky Mountains tipped off humans that a family of werewolves lived there. Their home was burned, and Vivian was the only survivor.
Now living in Bucharest and working in her aunt's chocolate shop, Vivian keeps to herself. Although she cherishes the freedom she feels while running in werewolf form, she loathes the beastly side that the others indulge. Vivian is approaching a critical time in coming to grips with her nature. Every seven years Gabriel (Olivier Martinez), the leader of the pack, takes a new wife. That time is soon, and everyone expects that she will be his chosen.
Complicating matters is her introduction to Aiden (Hugh Dancy). Vivian intrigues the American graphic novelist. She resists his initial attempts to strike up a romance for his safety as much as hers, but Aiden's persistence and charm wears her down. Aiden doesn't know about Vivian's heritage, but he's curious about the local werewolf legends. She feels she can trust him and shares stories. All of this angers Gabriel, who sends his son Rafe (Bryan Dick) to demand Aiden leave the country or else. Aiden refuses to heed the warning, putting Vivian in a position where she must choose between the man she loves and the secret society that has protected her.
Genre films can address serious topics in more accessible or entertaining ways than their higher minded cinematic counterparts. Based on a book for teenagers, BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE raises questions about the individual versus the group and tradition versus progress, but director Katja von Garnier is more interested in flaunting the film's lame special effects than mining its thematic potential.
Considering she must have had a limited budget, von Garnier would have been better served putting her effort into the story than the bargain basement effects work. Both suffer immeasurably. The human-to-wolf transformations aren't anything special despite the film's insistence on showing these moments over and over. The story features the most tepid romance possible and plenty of cringe-worthy dialogue. My favorite comes when Aiden sees the mess he's in by unknowingly becoming involved with a werewolf. Using his peculiar logic, he tells Vivian that if she cared for him, she should have ended the relationship before they met. Hey buddy, you were the one tracking her.
Is BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE a horror film? A romance? A teen movie? It's all of them and none of them. The horror aspect would seem the surest bet what with the werewolves and all, but the film makes no attempts to be scary. As far as star-crossed lovers are concerned, this pair is pretty boring. The main characters are at the tail end of their adolescence, but they're written as though they're older. Their ages are incidental anyway.
When a film is bad, it's easy to nitpick it to death. BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE provides plenty of opportunities. Romania is presented in an unflattering light, as if the old city were on the verge of crumbling, yet the chocolate shop is something out of a cheery middlebrow art film. The people must have their sweets. Conveniently enough, many of the signs are in English, including one identifying a building as City Cleaners. The sign isn't even necessary since we see what's inside before getting an exterior shot.
BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE ends with a whimper, going out on such a low-key note that it took a fellow critic to explain to me why the escape from the city isn't challenged. It's bad filmmaking, not restrained technique that lost me.