The strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack
Wolf Totem feats French director Jean-Jacques Annaud’s adeptness for the exploration, and this time to the isolated grasslands of Inner Mongolia. The story is based on Lu Jiamin’s personal experiences of his eleven years spent as a young herder at the height of the cultural revolution of 1967 and his growing fascination for the study about wolves, also happens to be a critically acclaimed semi-autobiographical novel. Arguably, this is the Chinese blockbuster of 2015, and expected to be Chinese entry for the foreign language Oscar. Played to the strength of what the big film canvas is about and rightly a home grown with French co-production made to widen their World appeal
Wolf Totem has an undeniable elemental of spiritual diversity of wolf’s communique and its graceful endurance in the midst of ever known conflict with man in those virgin grasslands. Jean Annaud knows his visual dexterity of bringing nature on the screen, having earlier directed The Bear (story of lost cub that bonds with an adult Kodiak) and Two Brothers (tale of the tiger cub siblings separated at birth.) His other movies like Enemy at the Gates; L’Amant and Seven Years in Tibet, is still fresh in the audiences mind. To his own surprise, Chinese Film Group approached him to make this movie as he was reportedly received life time ban after Seven years in Tibet. Interestingly enough the Chinese producers pulled a bold message of national conciliation and officially approved Annaud to make this film.
The premise of the movie is set in 1967. Like many other young Beijing University students during the cultural revolution, Chen Zhen and Yang Ke join the government lead team to the Inner Mongolia to study the livelihood of the nomads and whittle a place of settlements for the hordes of Han-Chinese migrating to the area. The team is among the closets of two Chinese urban students share a temporary shelter with the Mongol wise chief Bilig and his widowed daughter Gasma and her son along.
The students are bewilderingly taken by the harsh beauty of the land and the resilience and intelligence of local habitat with their sheep and horse-herding nomads. As Chen and Yang spends more time with Bilig, the more they come to understand just what the grasslands mean to the Mongol. Their experience and the cultural forte of learning through Bilig, especially the Mongols way of fortified existence and due to many historic, social circumstances, Bilig underlines that their civilization is mostly misunderstood by the people outside their region or I would say by the settled societies which are alien to their world and it was much before that the Mongols introduced paper currency to the world and it was the Mongols, who laid down the principles of the modern postal system. The cultural accomplishments of the Mongols were diluted by the achievement of the other settled civilizations that the world still struggle to know why.
Vied together, the movie curt to an outstanding landscape and the dramatic footage of wolf packs in action were Chen escapes the wolf’s attack that evening. Along the way, his inquisitiveness of totem wolf’s demeanor and their expressive ciphers grasps his fascination to study more on the animal. There you also draw the parallels with the tribe and their symbiotic relationship, sharing food and resources, and the nomads have a deep spiritual respect for the power of the wolves
Bilig further verves the wisdom of Genghis Khan’s portentous learning have been through the observation of wolves. Its high intellect, naturally fluent both in vocal and physical communications and having observed using strategies about hunting, habitat and migration. There is also a celestial realm about this gracious creature which guards the heavenly doors and serves as a totem in each of Mongols lives. Truly the wolf beckons Chen to ask many questions
The human drama unfolds more dutiful as Chen wrenches to adopt the third surviving wolf cub before two of them are killed by a Mongol. The spiriting dog’s milk feed for the orphaned wolf cub along with other hungry dog pups is a scene of recompensing by natural caring mother. Besides there are facsimiles on the way in which the Mongols and the Han-Chinese pronounced political undertones. Wolf Totem sermons the unambiguous ways Chinese social engineering upsets an ecosystem that Bilig and his forefathers have maintained for generations.
The façades of an intense relationship between the wolf cub and Chen symbolise both his own coming of an age and the ambiguous feelings about Chinese impact on the Mongolians. The film has an elusive introduction of a romantic exhilaration between Bilig’s gorgeous daughter-in-law Gasma and Chen. The very few scenes in which the two connect touch the synergy. The windy sub-textual nuances obligate the parable impact that the little wolf cub bite Gasma’s son during his playful encounter along his friends. Further, the arrival of a hard-nosed communist boss organizing a cull of the wolves in order to score pelts for fashion-savvy foreigners, and adds an essential cultural clash between Han-Chinese and Mongolian tribes.
The film has its finest moving scenes, so brilliant is its sketch that you feel like you are riding with the herders as they defenselessly watch the wolves bring down horse after horse in a series of suicide attacks. Wolf Totem is no less in exposing the age old clash of the demands of civilization against the needs of the environment. It doesn’t take you to know what beholds the great grasslands through the cultural annihilation of the tribe and the nature together, and the way subliminally acknowledges how a centuries old lifestyle can be quickly being devastated by the enormous country’s need to inhabit the economic progression. The final climax between the wolves and the man frightens the screen through the intense rides, and men power their charges to an all-out attack.
Wolf Totem depicts the passing of the seasons so colourfully and Annaud clearly connects the ecological missive of natural balance that plays such a large part in the tribe’s relationship with the animals and landscapes around them. Technical combination of Annaud with Andrew Simpson is a splendid combination that you rarely get to watch. The two packs of wolves were precisely trained for this film practically from the day they were born, back in 2010, by animal trainer Andrew Simpson, who directed the remarkable Siberian documentary Wolves Unleashed.
The background score of quintessential, old-fashioned James Horner bequeath so much to the nature of Mongolia and the use of shakuhachi flutes and erhu cello are highlights with the other instruments and each of its chord capture the majesty of a heightened emotions. Wolf Totem also revels an outstanding visual grandeur of the Mongolian landscape. Cameraman Jean-Marie Dreujou’s picturesque assemblage stimulates filmic intuit into a whole new experience and Annaud’s directorial eagerness at 70’s bestow the film’s wildlife with both character and intention, and the chase scenes involving wolves, horses, and gazelles are breath-taking in their realism and utterly convincing in their violence. It’s not just electric, but a phantom movement.
Yes, there was another country, once long ago and remember the uncertainties in those stillness- The thin brown line of a path wandering up an immense green mountainside, a plush hanging valley tucked between two steep hillsides, a hamlet surrounded by dark forest grasslands, gleaming on a shadowy ridge and if could be the difference from the rest of the world, it could be….. The green eyed wolves
- Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud
- Produced by Jean-Jacques Annaud; Xavier Castano; La Peikang & Bill Kong
- Screenplay by Jean-Jacques Annaud; Alain Godard; John Collee & Lu Wei
- Based on Wolf Totem by Lu Jiamin
- Cast: Feng Shaofeng; Shawn Dou; Ankhnyam Ragchaa; Basen Zhabu & Yin Zhusheng
- Music by James Horner
- Cinematography: Jean-Marie Dreujou
- Edited by Reynald Bertrand
- Production Company: China Film Group (China)
- Distibution:Mars Distribution (France)
- Release dates: 19 February 2015 (China)
- Run time of 121 minutes
- Country: China & France
- Language: Mandarin & Mongolian