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Film / The Wolf's Call

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ALFOST: In death, only victory is beautiful.

The Wolf's Call (French: Le Chant du Loup) is a 2019 French part Drama, part Thriller movie directed by Antonin Baudry. It stars François Civil as Chanteraide, Reda Kateb as Ship Captain Grandchamp, Omar Sy as Frigate Captain D'Orsi and Matthieu Kassovitz as the ALFOST.

Chanteraide works as an oreille d'ornote  in a submarine named the Titane, commanded by his mentor figure, Ship Captain Grandchamp. In a world succumbing to military tensions between Europe and Russia, the Marine Nationale is deploying its nuclear missile submarine and flaunting its nuclear deterrent more than ever.

During a mission off the Syrian shores, Chanteraide spots a suspicious noise coming from a submarine he cannot identify. At first he is pressed into identifying as a "biological" but then the submarine detects the Titane and leaks its location to an enemy warship, resulting in a near disaster. Once back home but obsessed with the sound, Chanteraide works to identify the source of the noise as Russia invades Finland and France deploys one of its nuclear ballistic missiles submarines, the Effroyable whom Grandchamp becomes responsible of while his former crew in the Titane will accompany him. Eventually a nuclear crisis starts and Chanteraide's hearing becomes crucial in detecting and identifying the enemy.

The movie is notable for being one of the biggest budget movies in the French industry, sitting at 20,000,000 euros for a budget, receiving the support of the actual Marine Nationale and trying its best to be faithful to the operations of its submariners.

The Wolf's Call contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Action Prologue: The first 20 minutes of the film are dedicated to a retrieval mission that goes awry as an Iranian warship detects the Titane and the crew now must fend off their assailant.
  • Aerith and Bob: Some characters have fairly standard-looking names like “Grandchamp”, but other names such as the protagonist “Chanteraide” and his girlfriend whose actual first name is “Prairie”.
  • Angry Guard Dog: The commando squad on the Syrian coast is chased by several soldiers helped with their dogs.
  • Artistic License – Geography: France and the Bering Sea are at nearly opposite longitudes, so the missile should be going up over the Arctic Ocean rather than running the length of Russia.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: Chanteraide is an “Oreille d’Or” note , one of the few technicians of the French Marine Nationale who are trained to listen to everything their subs can sense and is able to identify anything through the sound they make, their nature and their rhythm. Detecting an unknown sound at the beginning of the movie, he already identifies the source as a submarine and nails the number of blades it uses on the propeller. Moreover, the commanding and intelligence officers of the Titane are seasoned sub veterans who manage to track down the probable location and trajectory of the Effroyable thanks to the small clues they have.
  • Bait-and-Switch: In the end, Grandchamp is crawling toward the launch button while Chanteraide begs him not to do it. Chanteraide reminds him of the wolf's call conversation they had, which causes Grandchamp to pause, but then he resumes crawling toward the button. He reaches out and pulls the launch tray out of its slot, directly below the launch button, disabling the missiles.
  • Batman Gambit: The crew of the Titane expects the Effroyable to adopt the most optimal vector to launch its nuclear missile as they know that captain Grandchamp wouldn’t do any less, thus they coordinate with surface forces to force him to a location of the Titane’s choosing to better track it.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The world narrowly avoids a nuclear war but the Titane sinks along with almost the entire crew, as well as the Effroyable getting heavily damaged and Chanteraide loses his hearing because of the decompression when he escapes the sinking sub, rupturing his ear drums.
  • Black Dude Dies First: D'Orsi, the only black man in the cast, is the first named character to die.
  • Break Out the Museum Piece: Chanteraide pieces together that the strange sound he’s detected comes from an old class of submarines called the “Timour III”, which is an old Russian type of supposedly-decommissioned submarines. The Marine figures that Russia has probably kept an old model hidden long enough for it to not be archived in enemy subs’ databases but is ultimately proven false. Jihadists have bought the subs in secret and are manipulating the French into ordering a nuclear strike against Russia.
  • The Bridge: Most of the sub action takes place in the bridge of said submarines, which are cramped busy spaces full of screens and board. It is quite a technical accomplishment to manage to film in such an environment.
  • Brown Note: The eponimous wolf's call in the Action Prologue, when the crew has a Mass "Oh, Crap!" as they hear the sonar giving off their position to the enemy.
  • Call-Back:
    • In the end, Chanteraide recalls that Grandchamp trusts him and reminds him of the conversation they had about the wolf's call.
    • Early in the movie, Chanteraide hears Prairie coming from behind him trying to surprise him, and turns around. At the end of the movie, she has to touch him for him to notice her, because he has lost his hearing.
  • The Captain: Each submarine has one, the Ship Captain who commands the ships and decides what it does. Ship Captain Grandchamp is demonstrated as a cool-headed man of action who masters the subtleties of submarine warfare, trusts his men to do their job and doesn't hesitate to get his hands dirty himself.
  • Character Tics: When Chanteraide refers to himself hearing things, he actually points at his eyes. This highlights how he relies on his hearing as others rely on sight.
  • Chekhov's Gun: During his night with Prairie, we see a seemingly innocuous shot of her smoking marijuana (illegal in France) and then kissing Chanteraide who breathes the smoke. Later a military medical test finds chemical traces of marijuana in his bloodstream and he’s deemed unfit to come aboard the Effroyable.
  • Chekhov's Lecture: During his aptitude test, Chanteraide is made to identify various submarines. The CIRA commander adds in the Effroyable as a trick question, despite the fact that he is supposed to serve in it. Later, he has to locate the Effroyable by sound while on the Titane in combat conditions.
  • Chromosome Casting: Most of the characters are men, with Prairie as the only named female character. At least, the staff of the Marine showcase a few women.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: During the climax of the movie, the Titane must fight the Effroyable. To distinguish the two bridges, the Titane is bathed in red light while its opponent has the bridge in blue light. They are even innocuously referred to as "Red Titane" and "Blue Effroyable" several times in the movie, for no discernable reason other than to highlight this trope.
  • Cool Boat: The Effroyable is a state-of-the-art nuclear submarine, armed with ballistic nuclear missiles that can strike another continent, designed to be as stealthy as possible, equipped with advanced technology from its display screens to a laser scanner that can visualize the ocean floor, and pretty comfortable quarters to boot for a submarine.
  • Decoy Antagonist: The first act of the movie revolves around the unknown submarine Chanteraide detects, which is set up as the main antagonist for the Titane. Identified as a Russian submarine, it then shoots a missile at France. However, the real climax is about stopping the Effroyable from launching a nuclear missile. The Russian sub was only manipulating the French Marine with a dud missile.
  • Do Not Go Gentle: When the President of the Republic is made aware that their attempt to counter the alledged Russian nuke heading towards France failed, he decides to launch a nuke towards Russia in response, in an act which is, at this point, pure cruelty against civilians.
  • Dramatic Gun Cock: When he opens the safe containing the nuclear launch codes, Captain Grandchamp also takes the gun out of it, loads and cocks it as he must ensure that the nuclear missiles are launched at all costs.
  • Dub Name Change: The two subs are renamed as "Titan" and "Formidable" in the English dub, both of which could work as French names too but are easier to pronounce in English.
  • Ear Ache: Chanteraide breaks his ear drums as he escapes a sinking submarine. You can actually see him leave a trail of blood as he surfaces. Even after his bandages are removed, he has persistent hearing damage that will likely cost him his career.
  • Elaborate Underground Base: The Brest naval base has one that runs God knows how deep under the surface since it is the headquarter and control room overseeing all naval operations, including those pertaining to a possible nuclear strike.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Diane's first name is Prairie ("Meadow") in reality because her parents thought it was a common French name, but she chose to be called Diane in France.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Chanteraide is called Chaussettesnote  by his colleagues because he once went through a whole sub mission in his socks due to the overwhelming noise of shoes, completely disregarding protocol. As an Oreille d’Or, however, his skills are too indispensable to subject him to disciplinary action.
  • Epigraph: The movie opens on an Aristotle quote.
    Human beings come in three kinds: those who are alive, those who are dead, and those who are at sea.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: During his investigation of the strange sound, Chanteraide hears his girlfriend complaining that the database of the library she’s working at is not updated often and so old books that aren’t here anymore still count as being there. Chanteraide is inspired to deduce the opposite logic in that the Marine Nationale does update their databases and so obsolete ships are not kept inside anymore.
  • False Flag Operation: It is discovered that the Timour III class submarine is not crewed by Russian but by jihadists who have managed to get hold of it. Thus, now the French must now stop a nuclear strike coming from one of their own, tricked into believing in a Russian attack.
  • A Father to His Men:
    • Captain Grandchamp is a leader, incredibly stern and professional, but also a nurturing father figure to Chanteraide.
    Grandchamp: Follow your gut. I trust you.
    ALFOST: I spent my life teaching kids to respect the procedure, keep the country safe, trust the system. Now I have to neutralize those same kids?
  • Felony Misdemeanor: Chanteraide is kicked off the crew because his girlfriend blew a puff of cannabis smoke into his mouth while kissing him. His superiors further disparage him as a stoner several times afterwards.
  • Fighting Your Friend: The Titane must engage the Effroyable to stop the nuclear strike while the Effroyable’s crew is also aware that they’re battling fellow countrymen yet must treat them as an enemy because they are trying to stop the strike.
  • For Want Of A Nail: All of the plot happened because the Pentagon didn't deign to tell other countries that terrorists had bought the Timour III, even though they had known it for months.
  • Four-Star Badass: ALFOST proves that he isn’t an admiral for nothing and during the climax of the film takes command of the Titane to hunt down and destroy the Effroyable, proving that he’s a seasoned commander who visibly has mastered the subtleties of submarine warfare, can take the best tactical decisions against a superior foe and has the nerves to make the hard choices.
  • Gentle Touch vs. Firm Hand: Grandchamp and ALFOST as A Father to His Men. Though the context makes them both lean towards Firm Hand, Grandchamp is noticeably more nurturing and closer to his underlings.
  • Going Down with the Ship: ALFOST decides to die alongside the crew of the Titane while letting Chanteraide escape the sinking ship.
  • Hate Sink: The XO of the Effroyable is the one to enforce the most Lawful Stupidity, convincing Grandchamp to break communication with ALFOST and D'Orsi. There again, he's Just Following Orders.
  • Hell Is That Noise: The eponymous Chant du loup which is the noise a sonar makes when an enemy is trying to detect a sub. Any crew hearing that sound is sure that a torpedo or a bomb is going to be launched at them, which spells death if they aren’t able to evade it.
  • Heroic BSoD: Chanteraide freaks out when he is asked to locate the Effroyable to torpedo them and leaves the bridge. He's out of commotion until the first missiles are exchanged, and only returns when he remembers Grandchamp's trust in him.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: ALFOST lets Chanteraide escape the sinking Titane through a torpedo launcher while he stays.
  • Homing Projectile: Torpedoes are shown to not be simple missiles blindly launched at an enemy, but sophisticated weapons that home on their target and are even equipped with cables leading to their subs so that the crew can update the instructions of the torpedoes.
  • Hot Sub-on-Sub Action: The climax of the movie features the Titane hunting the Effroyable, a state-of-the-art submarine led by one of the Marine Nationale’s finest commander. The Titane is at a huge technological disadvantage and it takes the brilliance of ALFOST and Chanteraide’s ability to match the Effroyable.
  • I Call It "Vera": ALFOST refers to the submarines as his children.
  • Irrevocable Order: The driving force behind the second half of the film is that nuclear launch orders cannot be revoked even if it's discovered that they were made under false information.
  • Just Following Orders: The logic of launching a retaliatory nuclear strike is that submariners responsible for the strike must follow the orders no matter what or else the nuclear missiles have no value as deterrents. It eventually drives the Effroyable’s crew to engage a missile launch despite their own countrymen trying to stop them. Horrifyingly, it’s pointed out there is no protocol to cancel a submarine launch.
  • Karma Houdini: Russia invades Finland, but the movie moves away from focusing on that and Russia seemingly faces no consequences for invading another sovereign nation.
  • Kick the Dog: A crew member of Titane is a jerk to Chanteraide during the opening scene. In the end, he's revealed to be a Dirty Coward who nearly blows the mission.
  • Last-Name Basis: None of the militaries address each other by their first names, when they don’t simply use rank. The only exception is Prairie, whom Chanteraide becomes familiar enough with to use a first name.
  • Lawful Stupid: Justified. The crew of the Effroyable must follow protocol at all cost because they are the military after all and are responsible for one of the keystones of France’s military strategy with their nuclear missiles. As such, despite all signs telling them to stop, they continue through the nuclear launch.
  • Make the Bear Angry Again: The setting of the movie happens in a Possible War world where Russia is becoming much more aggressive and is beginning to invade Finland, thus their ally the French are deploying troops alongside some submarines as deterrents.
  • Mark of the Beast: One of the submariners in the Effroyable is shown to have the Brand of Sacrifice from Berserk tattooed on his shoulder. He works in a ship that carries nuclear weapons.
  • Middle Eastern Terrorists: Although they are only mentioned once in the story, they play a pivotal role as the real culprit behind the missile attack from the Bering Sea, tricking the French Marine Nationale into committing to a nuclear launch against Russia.
  • Mildly Military: Heavily downplayed, but the crew of the Titane is somewhat casual in that they do not bother to wear their rank insignias, and the ALFOST chews them out for this.
  • Military Maverick: Heavily downplayed, but Chanteraide is so suspicious about the sound that after being refused a formal request to investigate it further, he can’t stop himself from breaking into the head of CIRA’s computer and then CIRA’s classified archives to find the identity of the submarine. He is almost court-martialed for this, but his theory is listened to and double-checked, confirming that he’s right and thus his superiors let this slip.
  • Military Salute: Ever present when the characters interact with each other, driving home the Marine Nationale’s discipline and attachment to protocol.
  • Mistaken for Junkie: Chanteraide has the misfortune of breathing a bit of his lover’s marijuana joint, and thus traces of the stuff are found during a military medical check. Thus he is forbidden from entering the Effroyable as the submarine forces need their crew to be 100% trustworthy and fit for operation.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: The French nuclear ballistic missile submarine Effroyablenote . As a submarine responsible for nuclear deterrence, it helps that its name is equally as fearsome as its load. For bonus points, the Marine Nationale's first ever ballistic missile submarine was called the Redoutable (roughly the same meaning), although it was decommissioned in 1991.
  • Nerves of Steel: Most of the submarine crews are this, seasoned submariners who know they are inside of a giant metal coffin in the middle of the ocean having to infiltrate enemy territory, and where only stealth can protect them from torpedoes or bombings. In fact, Chanteraide the protagonist is one of the few who has the less nerves and he suffers a short breakdown during the climax because of the sheer pressure of having to find the enemy or allow the world to enter a nuclear war.
  • No Name Given:
    • ALFOST or AmiraL commandant de la Force Océanique Stratégique note , is only known by his rank and has no name given. Despite his major involvement in the plot, we actually do not learn his name at all.
    • The Effroyable XO is also a major character in the third act, but doesn't get a name.
  • Nuclear Option: As military tension begins to rise in the world, the French Marine also begins to seriously consider using its nuclear missiles, although first as nuclear deterrents against a Russian invasion. However, a nuclear missile launch coming from a Russian submarine forces the Marine’s hand and they start the protocol for a retaliatory strike.
  • Number Two: Inside of a nuclear submarine, the Ship Captain is seconded by his Executive Officer (XO), who is second-in-command and in charge of giving orders to the crew while the Ship Captain is responsible for deciding what to do. Frigate Captain D'Orsi is a sterner more authoritative and louder second-in-command to Grandchamp's coolheadedness.
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": The head of the CIRA has quite a lame computer password (lampshaded by Chanteraide when he figures it out), which is just the name of his wife Beatrice, plus "7". It still takes Chanteraide having most of the password already figured out — by remembering the sound of the keystrokes — to deduce the rest.
  • Plot Armor: The only two people who don't die when the Titane is hit by a torpedo are Chanteraide and the ALFOST, the only main characters on the sub.
  • Possible War: The movie plays up the existing political tensions between Europe and Russia as Russia decides to yet again invade a neighbouring country near the European Union, France being at the forefront of military deployments.
  • Power of Trust: At the last moment, Chanteraide begs Grandchamp to trust him as he always did and stop his misguided nuclear launch. Agonizing from his wounds received during a blast, Grandchamp ultimately take the confirmation electronic boards out of the computer needed to activate a nuclear missile launch, before he tragically dies.
  • Race Against the Clock: The climax of the movie revolves around stopping the submarine the Effroyable from launching a nuclear missile. The Titane has less than an hour to find a state-of-the-art stealth submarine and then prevent it from carrying through the launch.
  • Radio Silence: During the climax, the Effroyable goes radio silent — cutting off reception as well as transmission — for several reasons. First they are a stealth submarine, secondly, it’s to spare the crew from listening to the pleas of the Titane to stop the launch and go through the nuclear strike protocol. Unlike most example of the trope, it doesn’t involve the Irrevocable Order consequence of the trope as the order to launch a missile was irrevocable in the first place.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Several elements in the film may seem jarring to someone who is used to American war movies, such as people in the military talking to their superiors in a relatively casual manner or the giddy waiting music playing when the officers are trying to contact the President. But all is meant to reproduce faithfully the atmosphere and procedures of the French Marine.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The flag officers of the Marine Nationale are this. While they are understandably anal about protocol and chew out Chanteraide for breaking into the Marine’s forbidden facilities, they also listen to him and know that he doesn’t deserve to be court-martialed for discovering a new threat to the Marine, thus let him out of trouble.
  • Red Alert: The crew of the Titane enters the red alert state when they must enter combat mode. The bridge is thus bathed in red light.
  • Red Shirt: The crew of the Titane. They all die in the end, save our protagonist Chanteraide.
  • Retirony: Grandchamp had promised his wife to not set sail anymore, but the ALFOST convinces him that the need is great enough for him to do this mission. Grandchamp dies on the mission.
  • Sadistic Choice: The French Marine Nationale must face a terrible decision between letting a nuclear war happen or prevent one of their own submarines from launching a missile at all cost, including using lethal force.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: D’Orsi decides to go swim at a lethal sea depth to search for the enemy submarine in hopes of reaching Grandchamp and tell him to stop. However, a torpedo launch destroys his diving equipment in the middle of the sea and he dies without accomplishing much.
  • Short-Lived Leadership: D'Orsi is made commander of the Titane when Grandchamp is promoted to the Effroyable. He dies early on his first trip in a hopeless solo mission, and [ALFOST], who was already overriding his authority, takes command of the Titane for the rest of the battle.
  • Silent Running Mode: Submarines are this by default, being not so maneuverable and having no cover at all so stealth is the best way to protect themselves. As such everything is thought in order to either be as silent as possible or be as perceptive of enemy sound as possible, to the point a vacuum cleaning inside a submarine is considered a potential security breach when in combat. But then ALFOST exploits this to find the possible location of the enemy by seeking suspiciously low noises.
    ALFOST: "No information" is information.
  • Something Only They Would Say: Chanteraide convinces Grandchamp that he is legitimate by repeating their conversation about the wolf's call.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: During a grave moment, the Marine must contact the Elysée and Presidential office. However, they are treated to a chirpy elevator music as they must wait for an answer, providing a much-needed moment of levity in the middle of an ongoing nuclear crisis.
  • Sub Story: The bulk of the story concerns a modern French submarine.
  • Super-Senses: Chanteraide’s hearing is well above average. As one of the “Oreilles d’Or” of the French Marine, he is responsible for detecting anything swimming near his sub through the sound they make, and then identify them through the subtleties of the sounds. He is able to hear the faintest sounds, knows when his girlfriend is sneaking up on him, and can identify a password by the sound of the keyboard. He sadly loses his hearing by rupturing his ear drums when he escape a sinking Titane.
  • Take That!:
    • The movie takes several jabs at the French administration for being slow and inefficient. For instance, an important military headquarter’s call to the President is put on hold for several seconds, accompanied with an inappropriate music. Later, ALFOST complains about a broken computer screen that hasn’t been replaced yet and demands an explanation from the crew, to which he is answered, “This is France”.
    • An expository news reporter says that the United States is, as expected, utterly apathetic to the plight of Europe and will provide no help.
  • Taps: The crew of the Effroyable performs a ceremony to honor the submariners who died in the senseless battle, with an actual trumpet for good effect. Yet, we hear none of it since Chanteraide has gone deaf from ruptured ears.
  • This Looks Like a Job for Aquaman: Chanteraide's amazing hearing abilities are ideal for his position as oreille d'or, and most of the plot is driven by his ability to localize and identify submarines by ear.
  • Trivial Title: The wolf's call is a term designating the sonar that is dipped from the surface to detect the submarine. However, the device ultimately has little to do with the plot, its name seemingly being used because it sounds cool. The movie uses it as a metaphor for You Are Already Dead, a trope that all the characters are only too aware of in the last act.
  • Wham Line: When Grandchamp finally makes the decision that seals the outcome of the battle.
    Grandchamp: Engage the Titane!