The Wolf’s Call (Cert 15)
1 Disc DVD/Digital (Distributor: Altitude Films) Running Time: 116 minutes approx.
“Orders is orders!” Not just the title of a 1930’s British comedy film but also a doctrine adhered to by the military. However, there are times when an absolute order is maybe ill advised or suddenly invalid and without a call to cancel it, one is obliged to carry it out anyway with potentially disastrous results. Then what do you do?
The French submarine Titan is on a mission in Syria when an unidentified sonar signal is picked up. Resident sonar reader Chanteraide (François Civil) initially identifies it as sick whale but then realises it is another submarine transmitting Titan’s position to a nearby Iranian frigate. Having managed to escape this situation, Titan and its crew return to France just as Russia invades Finland’s Åland Islands.
France’s president sends the sub Formidable to support the Finnish leading to Moscow threatens retaliation against the French, launching a nuclear missile from their Timor III sub. Chanteraide notices the missile was harmless but it’s too late – the President has ordered Formidable to return fire and Commander Grandchamp (Reda Kateb) knows he cannot disobey an order from the President. With communications shut down, Titan is despatched to stop Grandchamp but can they make it in time?
Submarine films aren’t particularly prominent within the cinematic milieu but those that exist set a high benchmark, like Das Boot, The Hunt For Red October, and Crimson Tide. Joining these lofty titles, though on a slightly lower deck, is The Wolf’s Call, a mix of topical global politics with mild psychological drama courtesy of former French diplomat Antonin Baudry, presumably drawing on past experiences for creative inspiration.
With this being his first film, Baudry struggles a little to give everything equal weight and import, most notably in the character development. At the centre of it all is Chanteraide, with his Golden Ears that can recognise any sound. Nothing is explained about how his hearing became so acute or why it seems to make him such a nervous Nelly all the time either, hinting at it being a savant like gift.
During the tepid second act, when Chanteraide is sent for retraining but instead decides to investigate which sub confused him in Syria, he meets Diane (Paula Beer), leading to the inevitable gratuitous sex scene and to justify the rare existence of a woman in this male dominated, testosterone heaving film.
Since this is about a large group of men in close proximity to one another inside a huge submerged tin can, this is inevitable though it isn’t something that is necessarily played up to. Chanteraide is definitely a sensitive chap and has Grandchamp for support, whilst Titan’s second-in-command D’Orsi (Omar Sy) is more of man’s man. In the final act, he assumes the action man role when things get desperate, putting his macho credentials to good use.
Baudry is able to create a unique but relatable environment for the scenes aboard the subs, some shot inside real submarines, but with so few of the characters given lines let alone names, we can only care about them in lieu of the dire situation they are in, not through any direct emotional attachment. Credit to the support cast though for making an effort in keeping the illusion alive at all times as if this was an operational sub.
Deserving more attention than it got is the catalyst for the drama of the third act, namely the steadfast adherence to the absolute nature of an order from the President. It begins when Chanteraide’s hunches about Timor III are confirmed but a failed drugs test sees him benched from Formidable’s mission. Stuck at the base he notices the missile fired from Timor III was harmless, but did its job in provoking the French to return fire.
But the President had already given the order to attack, which the Russians wanted, and by the time the ALFOST (Mathieu Kassovitz) had talked the President round, it is too late – Grandchamp has authenticated the original order and followed procedure by shutting all communications (to avoid being traced) and proceeds with the plan.
This really should have been the main plot for this film and not contained to the final half hour. Granted it was set up in the sluggish second act, but the weight of the decision making by Grandchamp deserves to be examined in greater detail. As a man of principal with tremendous responsibility, he is conflicted over doing his duty and disobeying an order of the very top considered absolute, knowing it is wrong.
From the audience’s perspective, we are questioning why there isn’t room for common sense if or when it is revealed a u-turn is required, or why the procedure is so strict that the need for being incommunicado doesn’t allow for a temporary open channel. One scene sees D-Orsi in Titan managing to get through to Grandchamp and he knows why he is calling yet his obligation to his duty forces him to hang up on him and continue as planned.
Reda Kateb does a stellar job in conveying this internal struggle, so his actions aren’t as baffling and frustrating as they could be. The pain is etched indelibly on his faced yet with the pressure building, he knows he can’t falter before his men, most of whom seem unaware of his moral dilemma. In comparing psychological studies, Grandchamp should be the one under evaluation not Chanteraide, whose plight becomes the lesser of the two.
As Chanteraide, François Civil’s boyish looks enhance the fragility and timorous nature of his character, making for an interesting protagonist but his story feels it should be told separately, as does Grandchamp’s. However, it is not difficult to see why Baudry weaved them both into this singular tale.
The Wolf’s Call is a strong debut for Baudry, a very cinematic and perfectly serviceable genre film providing plenty of military action and tense, claustrophobic drama, that has lots to say, but needs a broader platform to say it.
Rating – *** ½
Man In Black