Two Brothers

dir. Annaud
Opens Fri June 25
Various Theaters

Unless his next film is about the misadventures of a pack of fluffy bunnies, it's hard to imagine that Jean-Jacques Annaud (who also made The Bear; in addition to Seven Years in Tibet and Quest for Fire) is ever going to trump the cuteness standard set by this DV tale about two tiger cubs in Indochina who get separated from their mom and from one another. The wee tigers are so goddamn cute that you almost start crying before the bullets fly, before the cage doors slam shut, before the fires blaze. And when those calamities get going, forget it. But Two Brothers, I'm relieved to note, is more than mere kitty porn for hippies and little girls.

Annaud's great trick is to turn the essential, undeniable, heart-exploding adorability of the cubs (and the constant threats that come their way) into the stuff of proper drama. Annaud handily pulls off that feat by making Sungha and Kumar distinct characters--one is timid and sweet, the other ferocious--and by suffusing their plight with emotions you can only call human. Because this is a movie about animals, he also supplies an endless array of scenes in which beasts suffer and die at the hands of men. And because the animals remind you of your sweet little house cat, you cry. But somewhere in there, you also become invested in the story, which is so primary as to be almost Greek, and is told with techniques so purely cinematic as to confirm the essential power of movies. Two brothers grow up separately, and are reunited as strangers in combat. Will they recognize one another? Will they be tigers or will they be brothers? Will I dry my teary eyes with Kleenex or a handkerchief? Two Brothers dares to ask all these questions and more. And Guy Pearce is in it, too, as the token human.