Cinema Signal:

Secret Life of Tigers
by Valmik Thapar

. "Two Brothers"

A film director of higher than average sensibility toward the planet and a dramatic creativity that allowed him to bring human and animal characters together in one story makes this an unusual treat. Its success seems to derive largely from putting the inhabitants of separate worlds into a context where both belong.

To tell his story, director Jean-Jacques Annaud ("The Bear") used nearly 30 Bengalese tigers, the settings of war-ravaged Cambodia (to stand in for 1920's Cambodia when it was a French colony), a crew of 300, and a great deal of patience to elicit amazing performances from his animal main characters, Kumal and Sangha, both as cubs who lose their parents and and as full grown survivors making their way (and paying their way) in a greedy, commercial world. They literally carry the film's central emotional content with their expressions and carefully cut actions. Under Annaud's tutorship, they seem to have no difficulty in conveying everything from stress to doubt to joy.

Co-starring with them is Guy Pearce as the right-minded hunter who sorts things out in a principled way throughout the drama. He is both wise and persuasive in his leadership role of guiding the humans and interacting with the animals.

It's often cited, as though to explain this unusual accomplishment with wild beasts, that Annaud previously made another highly successful film romp in the animal kingdom, "The Bear" (1988) but, lest he's thought of as limited to that genre, it might be well to point out that he was also responsible for "Enemy at the Gates" in 2001 and the Brad Pitt starrer, "Seven Years in Tibet" of 1997. The man's interests have some scope, thought there could be some argument about its relative merits.

This endearing journey, which seem marked by a particular respect for the dignity of the four-legged actors will, of course, play especially well among the green people in all societies. But the dramatic structure and story of survival in a dangerous world is what gives it an appeal that should break strict demographic limitations. It's a bit precious at times; cat owners of the world will hardly mind.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Guy Pearce, hunter
Bonding with a tiger cub

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