“There are three types of people: Those who are alive, those who are dead, and those who are at sea.” This quote from Aristotle opens The Wolf’s Call, a wartime thriller and directing debut from Antonin Baudry. Before starting his career in cinema, he was an advisor to former French foreign affairs minister Dominique de Villepin and a co-writer for the successful graphic novel Quai d’Orsay, adapted for film by Bertrand Tavernier. He also worked as a cultural counselor at the embassy of France in New York from 2010 through 2014.
Baudry’s big-budget movie uses the prism of underwater acoustics to take viewers into the world of nuclear submarines. “What struck me when I started researching the subject was that the best tool for detecting sounds in submarines is not a machine but the human ear,” he said in an interview. “The oreille d’or [golden ear] is the French term for the person aboard a submarine who can identify and analyze sounds. There are just a handful of oreilles d’or in France. They are trained at a school whose name is just fantastic – the CIRA, Centre d’Interprétation et de Reconnaissance Acoustique. Few people know about the school, and its activities are top secret.”
The movie’s lead, Chanteraide (played by François Civil), is an oreille d’or tasked with decrypting underwater sounds and recognizing the noises made by propellers, the engines of military vessels, and “the wolf’s call,” the nickname given to enemy sonars. While thought to be infallible, Chanteraide makes a mistake that endangers the lives of his crew and sets off a chain of events against the backdrop of nuclear dissuasion.
To make his movie credible, Baudry spent a month of observation on a French military submarine. A team of actual navy submariners were hired as extras on the set in order to teach the actors about the body language and habits inherent to their work. “I wanted to draw inspiration from real life instead of adopting the codes of a preestablished genre,” says the director. “I did not base my work on other submarine movies. Most of them are American, and yet in France we have also been confronted with issues of nuclear power and dissuasion. We also have a fleet of submarines, and what I observed does not correspond to what you see in U.S. movies. I therefore decided to only draw inspiration from what I saw and felt – even though there are submarine films I love, such as Das Boot and The Hunt for Red October.”
Work on sound effects – essential to the film – was carried out at the sound design studio at George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch near San Francisco. American electro duo Tomandandy composed the soundtrack, creating a nerve-wracking atmosphere that goes perfectly with what Baudry calls “a Greek tragedy 1,600 feet under the sea.” The pace never falters and the movie is driven by a cast of French favorites, including the recently discovered François Civil, as well as Omar Sy, Reda Kateb, and Mathieu Kassovitz.
Article published in the September 2019 issue of France-Amérique. Subscribe to the magazine.