At the turn of the 20th century we meet a tiger family living peacefully in the jungle ruins of an ancient Southeast Asian temple. The two male cubs--Kumal and Sangha (their given "human" names as we come to find out)--are tight as two brothers can be with Kumal being the more brave and adventurous of the two while Sangha remains the shyer more sensitive one. Their happy existence comes to a screeching halt however when a British hunter Aidan McRory (Guy Pierce) invades their world in search of sacred temple artifacts and inadvertently separates the two tiger cubs. Kumal is eventually sold off to a circus where captivity robs him of his spirit. Sangha on the other hand finds brief happiness as the beloved pet of a governor's lonely young son Raoul (Freddie Highmore) until an accident forces the family to give him away to a spoiled prince whose animal trainers turn Sangha into a fierce fighter for sport. A year later the full-grown brothers are finally reunited in a ring where they are forced to do battle for the enjoyment of bloodthirsty patrons--but the tigers end up recognizing each other instead and renewing their long-lost kinship. Together Kumal and Sangha escape their confines and head out to rediscover their roots in the jungle--that is if the big bad white men will let them.
Two Brothers focuses all its attention on the tigers leaving the human actors to serve only in perfunctory roles but Pierce stands out the most as the kindly McRory. The actor infuses the skilled hunter with a realistic outlook; he kills what he considers a dangerous man-eater. Yet by bonding with Kumal McRory eventually becomes the tiger's friend rather than its foe--and it's very gratifying to see him gain respect and admiration for the animals thus laying down his arms. Young Highmore (who will play Charlie Bucket in the upcoming Tim Burton remake Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) also adds a nice touch as Raoul whose innocence and pure love for Sangha teaches the adults around him a thing or two about caring for wildlife. But of course in a film of this nature mankind will ultimately be the bad guy; there's no way around it. And Two Brothers is chock-full of them--ignorant greedy and mean-spirited as they are.
"This movie is a combination of three of my greatest passions: the animal world a love of monasteries and temples and my fascination with the European colonial period. It was a world that irritated and fascinated but its buffoonery and quirky characters also amused me " explains Two Brothers filmmaker Jean-Jacques Annaud. As the critically acclaimed director of the 1989 The Bear Annaud knows what he is talking about having done the almost impossible again with Two Brothers--a compelling heartwarming film in which beautiful wild potentially dangerous and very real tigers are the main stars. How does he do it you may ask? Apparently he surrounds himself with the best animal trainers in the world including head trainer Thierry Le Portier. Annaud and Le Portier use about 30 different tigers in all each with their own unique personalities and specialties (i.e. some are better for the maternal scenes; others for the stunts). As well Annaud employs High Definition digital rather than just 35mm cameras (an upgrade since The Bear) which allows longer uninterrupted takes with the tigers. The end effect is mesmerizing as it puts you right there with the gorgeous animals. Some animatronic tigers are used but only in cases where the animals may have been in danger especially in one scene where the brother tigers escape a jungle fire. Of course there really isn't a story per se only vignettes in which you sort of gear yourself up for something bad to happen; that somehow the evils of mankind will prevail--and while Two Brothers still chokes you up it's more out of relief and happiness when everything turns out right.
It's the early 1790s and the Reign of Terror follows the French Revolution and the fall of the Bastille. France attempts to stabilize and form a new government of the people but many of the people are rowdy and murderous. Grace Elliott an elegant Scottish divorcee lives luxuriously in Paris but around her swirls the violence and mayhem of a populist movement that has the Jacobin mobs weeding out the aristocratic remnants of Royalist rule. While Grace holds on to her pro-Royalist sentiments her ex-lover the Duke of Orleans who hates his cousin King Louis XVI--now in the hands of the enemy--has joined forces with the pro-Revolution opposition. In spite of their political differences the Duke and Grace maintain a cordial relationship. But chaos and danger are all around them: the King is imprisoned and mobs are storming the homes of suspecting aristocrats. Grace flees to her country home but returns to Paris to help a Royalist fugitive. On this suspenseful return journey (Paris at this time is actually sealed off) she witnesses the crowds at their worst as they brandish the head of a princess through the Parisian streets. In the post-Revolutionary anarchy both the Duke and Grace are arrested but thanks to the ironic intervention of Robespierre the legendary hero of the Revolution Grace's fate at the hands of the wielders of the guillotine is far happier than the Duke's.
While The Lady and the Duke boasts no "name" actors all performances are deliciously on the mark including Lucy Russell as the quietly elegant but brave Grace and Jean-Claude Dreyfus as the well-meaning but doomed liberal Duke. Supporting roles effectively reflecting the emotional and political turmoil of the time all contribute to the richness and authenticity of this historic tableau.
Prolific director Eric Rohmer has since the '50s produced articulate elegant films that focus on relationships and the power of fate to alter human lives and he delivers a real gem of similar ilk here. As he did in other period films like The Marquise of O and Perceval le Gallois Rohmer injects magic and atmosphere into this work which he adapted from the Lady's actual journals. The film's story skillfully lays out the chaotic politics of the time while its digitally enabled visuals deliver a breathtakingly beautiful and very convincing Revolutionary era Paris in a feast for the eyes. Again displaying his gifts for choosing and working with the right actors Rohmer has them deliver his fact-based story fluidly convincingly and engagingly. The characters are restrained with their words (after all this is 1790 or so) yet like all Rohmer characters they come alive as flesh and blood people with familiar emotions pulsating along side their strongly held political leanings.