In 1988, French-born filmmaker Jean-Jacques Annaud took audiences into the world of The Bear. Now he returns to a wildlife theme with the heartwarming and moving adventure of two young tigers in Two Brothers.
The two tiger cubs are born in the overgrown ruins of an ancient temple, deep in a Southeast Asian rainforest. It is some 80 years ago and their lair is far from civilization; but an expedition to find valuable antiquities finds them.
The brothers are separated: Kumal winds up with a hunter disillusioned by the impact his trade is having on the environment; Sangha becomes the pet of a young boy, the son of a French colonial governor. Although they grow up apart, the Two Brothers are destined eventually to be together.
Director and co-writer Jean-Jacques Annaud says there are no "CGI" or computer-generated tigers in the film. Real animals portray the title characters; but, although he is devoted to an accurate portrayal, Annaud says it is all to tell a story.
"The movie is a fable ... a tale; I insist on that," explains Annaud. "This is not a documentary and is not supposed to give you what you would have looking at a National Geographic [program]. It is fiction. Therefore, I am not telling a common story of how tigers react in the wild. What I'm doing is I'm telling a story that could have happened. It's plausible."
Annaud put his film crew inside a protective cage and let the tigers roam free. He explains that while the young cubs are adorable and playful, the crew and actors always had to be aware that the adult animals - even when well trained - could be deadly.
"This is why they are fascinating. I was often thinking, when I was behind my bars looking at my 'actors' - my tigers - coming in front of the camera I was mesmerized," he says, "but I also said to myself I know why I have so much respect for their majesty and dignity. I look up to them; they look down on me. I am just a small, two-legged person; they are magnificent, agile, powerful creatures. This is why we all instinctively have so much respect for tigers: because we are frightened."
Guy Pearce plays the hunter Aidan McRory and the Australian actor admits he found the tiger cubs irresistible, although he was wary of the adults. He also believes Two Brothers displays their wits as well as their charm.
"They are incredibly intelligent animals and they do make decisions for their own survival," Pearce says. "Really a lot of what we see them do in the film is what they would do. People ask questions about their memory, but, as I say, in all the discussions I had with the tiger experts on the film, they said 'Finally somebody is doing a story where we get to see what these animals are capable of.' It is sort of a difficult subject because we all have our preconceived ideas about what animals can and can't do; so I feel I have to be wary about what I'm judging or how I judge something because it might be based on my own."
According to the World Wildlife Fund, a century ago there were more than 100,000 tigers living in the wild; today fewer than 5,000 remain. Pearce says he made Two Brothers because he liked the story, but he doesn't mind if audiences come away with a new appreciation of these animals and their place in nature.
"Before I make a film I never really think about what I hope the film will say to people. I'm so caught up with the character and what's going. I definitely get a feeling of a positive or negative message; but I don't necessarily think about articulating it," he says. "But I would hope that those scenes in the film might remind people of the violence within us: the capability we have of choosing to go down that road to exert some power ... dragging something else down rather than elevating ourselves to try to feel stable and equal."
Along with scenes shot in a French studio, much of Two Brothers was filmed on location in the jungles of Cambodia and Thailand.