Dir. Miguel Courtois. Sp. 2004. 122mins
A cracking period political thriller, The Wolf (ElLobo) is the type of intelligent drama rarely seen these days - a throwbackto Costa Gavras's Z or Missing, in which director Courtoisevidently holds his audience in high esteem and rewards those willing to take achance with complex material and subtitling.
On Filmax's Cannes slate, TheWolf pulled off over $10m at the Spanish box office and stands to travelwell internationally - arthouse looks a cert, but possibly beyond. It's a filmmade for the over-35 audience which flocked to The Interpreter, onlythis shouldn't disappoint; lead actor Noriega's brooding good looks andpowerhouse performance won't hurt marketing efforts, either.
Set during the dying days ofFranco's dictatorship, The Wolf is based on real-life events, in whichBasque terrorist group ETA was infiltrated by a top-level mole who almostsucceeded in bringing down the entire organisation.
This obviously hasramifications for Spain today, where ETA still wields a threatening influence,but is also of wider interest in that it documents the roots of the modernterrorist movement - further west, in Ireland, the IRA was also flexing itsmuscles in a similar way.
But The Wolf succeedsin painting a broad picture of both sides of the fence: Franco's corruptmilitary regime, the brutality of the terrorists, the tensions within ETAitself, and those caught in the middle. Notably, they include Txema (Noriega),a hard-up Basque handyman who is friends with some of the terrorists butshocked by the brutality of their methods. Caught in the middle of a shooting,he finds himself compromised and makes a deal; but when secret service agentRicardo (Coronado) hands him a cheque, he's set on the road to becoming The Wolf.
Initially married (toAbascal), Txema begins an affair with terror groupie Amaia (Doutey), whichleads him to the heart of ETA and the brutal Nelson (Bruel), at odds with theidealist Asier (Sanz). Soon, a deeply compromised Txema is out of his depth, unableto trust anybody, and cut loose in a gripping climax.
While the film does peterout somewhat by the end, ultimately, The Wolf doesn't disappoint. At itscentre Eduardo Noriega delivers a career-best performance with his convincing,largely-internalised portrayal of a fugitive who by the end has nowhere left torun.
Tech credits are strong inthis sophisticated production, which captures well the tones of the Basqueregion while providing convincing period sets and costumes.
Prod cos: Castelao Producciones, Estudios Picasso, MundoFiccion
Int'l sales. Filmax International
Sp dist: Filmax
Prods: Melchor Miralles, JulioFernandez
Scr: Antonio Onetti
Cine: Nestor Calvo
Prod des: Pedro Moreno
Music: Francesc Gener
Main cast: Eduardo Noriega,Silvia Abascal, Patrick Bruel, Melanie Doutey, Jorge Sanz