25 Feb 2015

Wolf Totem: Annaud's Signature Mo(nu)ment

If there is ONE film this year which I dearly wish to see, Wolf Totem (Le Dernier Loup) is it. From the teaser and an interview I read in a local newspaper with French film director Jean-Jacques Annaud, the movie is everything but ordinary run-of-the-mill. It is an epic, one of those that escaped the Cinemascope age, with landscapes that summon nature to our senses and a storyboard that transports us to lands afar. It is an epic that treats the viewer with intelligence and embraces 3D and the latest digital enhancements parsimoniously like they are the finest ingredients. The result is a pared-down finished article, free from the additives and E numbers that have come to accessorise to the point of clutter the blockbusters of the last two decades in terms of special effects. The film score by James Horner adds to the cinematographic grandeur.

(via Filmosphere)

Film pundits and Annaud aficionados will appreciate his trademark sobriety of filming that leaves time and space for the viewer to view and think and ponder and revel. The storyline is based upon Wolf Totem, a critically-acclaimed semi-autobiographical novel by Chinese author and anti-establishment figure, Lü Jiamin (also known as Jiang Rong, a pseudonym he used to protect his identity). The book was published in 2004.

Jean-Jacques Annaud is a film legend - with a filmography to boot: The Name of the Rose, The Bear, Seven Years in Tibet, Enemy at the Gates and Two Brothers, to name but a few. He is therefore not a novice in terms of dealing with (a) animal matters and (b) Chinese matters, the latter landed him into hot water with the Chinese authorities during the filming of Seven Years in Tibet (his film got banned). Besides Annaud is what I would qualify 'a filmmaker for the long haul', one who takes his time crafting his style, prolific in terms of quality rather than quantity of films.

The stars of the film are scores of Eurasian wolves (35 of them!) picked as pups by the film crew from a Chinese zoo (in Harbin), before being professionally raised and trained for over 4 years until filming began in Inner Mongolia, a remote autonomous region of China.

The story centres at the start of China's Cultural Revolution, as Chinese students are sent out from Peking (Beijing) by the Chinese government to educate poor country folks in the remote province of Inner Mongolia. One of the students, Chen Zhen, becomes fascinated by wolves. He decides to capture a wolf pup and raise him, just as the government launches a wolf culling programme.

Wolf Totem is harked as the biggest Sino-French co-production to date, with a $40 million budget, 80% of which financed by China. More than 7 million spectators saw the movie since its release in China a week ago! It is now set to take France and the rest of the world by storm!

Le Dernier Loup is released today in France.

(Pict source)

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