“Loup” (Wolf),  is the poignant story of a young man trying to grow up in one of the world’s most hostile environments, Siberia. In this country, reindeer is life. This animal provides everything necessary  to sustain life for these nomadic clans. It is their food, milk, their clothing, their transportation; their money for the few outside things they possess..

Hungry wolves too are a part of life in this frozen land, and a reindeer is a feast for a starving pack.

Young Sergeï has a lot to prove. His father, Nickolaï, is chief of their little clan. Boys and girls have to grow up fast in their world, and Sergeï wants not only to make his father proud of him, but he has another reason as well:  He wants to impress the lovely Nastashya.

Sergeï begs his father to allow him to  herd the clan’s  reindeer to new pasture. Against the advice of others, Nickolaï permits Sergeï to do this.

Later, on his own now, Sergeï spots a wolf on a ridge. Sergeï has been brought up to kill wolves on sight and he takes his rifle and goes out to kill this one, but soon discovers its lair with four cubs frolicking about. Sergeï knows what to do. He raises his rifle. He takes careful aim and his finger tightens on the trigger…but he cannot do it. He is smitten and after a time, he and the cubs, and eventually the mother whom he names Voulka, have bonded. He gives each cub a name as well.

Nastashya rides out to visit. When she  discovers what Sergeï is doing she is devastated. As she points out,  they don’t hate the wolves. It’s simply a matter of survival. It’s the clan or the wolves. They cannot afford to share their precious reindeer,  and the wolves must be killed on sight

Out of her love for Sergeï, and the wonder of seeing the wolves up close and personal, Nastashya too allows herself to be seduced by these beautiful animals.

But other wolves come and the pack not only causes the herd to scatter in panic, but slaughters one reindeer. Soon the clan figures out what Sergeï has been doing, and Sergeï’s disappointed father says “If you can’t be a man for us, how will you be a man for your woman?” This cuts deeply.

Sergeï pleads for a chance to redeem himself. He will take care of the wolves. At last his father permits Sergeï to go after the wolves, but warns him, this will be his last chance. Sergeï sets off in a frozen, stunningly white and bitter winter to accomplish his dreaded task.

As he chases after one of “his” wolves, the wolf runs out onto ice and breaks through. He hangs onto the ice, unable to extricate himself. Sergeï cautiously crosses the ice to the wolf but he too plunges in, fully dressed in heavy winter skins. He manages to get the wolf out and then himself, but he is so cold he cannot even start a fire. Some of “his” wolves come to him and lick his face and hands, warming him enough to enable him to start a fire.

He now must face the cold choice of killing these wolves, wolves that have not only accepted him as one of their own, but have literally saved his life, or coming home to face only shame and disgrace.

This film was shot on location under the most severe conditions and it really shows. Each scene is a painting and the interaction between man, reindeer, wolf, nature and the relentless approach of civilization is amazing and touching to watch.

“Loup” is in French with subtitles, but it really doesn’t need dialog.

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