Katja von Garnier's Blood and Chocolate is a werewolf movie for people who like teen romances, and a teen romance for people who like werewolf movies. It's no great shakes in either direction, but the crossover attempt is mildly interesting. At least it's not yet another remake filled with the same old tricks. Instead, the film opens with plenty of picturesque shots of Bucharest, Romania, with trees, buildings, fountains, sculptures, and especially the lithe form of Vivian Gandillon (Agnes Bruckner), jogging. If there was any doubt that she's a werewolf, we get an immediate shot of a dog whimpering and backing away under her gaze -- not to mention that her brand of jogging includes bounding off the sides of buildings.
Vivian lives, vaguely dissatisfied, in a community of werewolves that keeps mostly to itself. The pack's leader, Gabriel (Oliver Martinez) worries that an attack could lead bands of marauding humans into their lair, massacring the lot of them. Occasionally, Gabriel waylays a drug dealer or some other scum of society and lets his furry brethren loose on a merry chase. Some of the wolfmen, such as Vivian's cousin Rafe (Bryan Dick), complain that life is too boring, but Vivian has other worries. Every seven years Gabriel takes a new bride, discarding the old ones, and Vivan dreads that she could be next. Worse, she fears that there's nothing she can do about it.
Into this setup walks our prince, a graphic novel artist and American expat Aiden (Hugh Dancy), in town to study and draw wolves. He babbles most of the "true" werewolf lore to the audience, the stuff that the movies bastardized for their own selfish ends. After a beautiful date that includes more city vistas, the two fall in love. This prompts an intervention from the wolves, which in turn prompts an all-out battle. Vivian must then decide where her loyalties lie.
It's all very desperate and romantic, like Romeo and Juliet. But Shakespeare had the foresight to include two crucial elements in his timeless play: the Montagues and the Capulets. That is, we see both Romeo's family and Juliet's family, and though they hate each other, they're more similar than either realizes. In Blood and Chocolate, we meet only two humans, the drug dealer and Aiden, who are not exactly a great cross-section of all that humanity has to offer. Gabriel makes plenty of speeches about how terrible and violent humans are, but we have nothing with which to compare or contrast his views (aside from the fact that Aiden eventually gets hold of a gun and starts slinging bullets).
The drama therefore rests entirely on our small band of werewolves, which can be a problem given the clunky writing and tentative acting from everyone on board. The film was based on a "young adult" novel by Annette Curtis Klause, and the director's first language is German, which may explain why no one filtered out the silly stuff and why the actors look so uncomfortable. Bruckner, for the most part, gets away with it because of her striking, camera-friendly features. For my money Bryan Dick comes out the worst, overplaying his strutting, cocky, power-hungry cub, extending his arms at the beginning and ending of every line of dialogue.
As for the horror film side, don't expect any terrifying moments. These werewolves are only interested in running through the forest and being peaceful. (It's never made clear just how and what they eat to survive.) And though John Landis and Joe Dante broke new ground in human-to-werewolf transformations in their 1981 films An American Werewolf in London and The Howling, director Garnier uses a much simpler technique. The humans leap into the air, turn into a length of golden, glowing light and emerge as wolves -- the real animal, not some kind of two-legged abomination like Lon Chaney's version.
But here's the rub: the combination of the two parts results in a kind of slight, wistful film full of charming little moments. It's never taxing or tense, and, if the right mood strikes, it could make for a cuddly date movie. In one scene, Aiden tries to take Vivian to a café at the top of a building with a great view of the city, but when it's unexpectedly closed, Vivian sneaks them both onto the rooftop of a rich art collector, and it's breathtaking. "This is way better than the date I had planned," Aiden mutters.
And believe it or not, both young adults have jobs. Aiden works hard on his graphic novel (he bristles at the term "comic book"), and Vivian works with her aunt (also a werewolf, played by the interesting German actress Katja Riemann) making chocolates, which is where the title comes in. The idea is that one tastes good to humans, and the other tastes good to werewolves; as shape-shifters, the werewolves can enjoy both, while poor lowly humans can only understand one. I'm not sure where the metaphor is supposed to go from there, but it's about trying new things.