“Wolf Totem” is “just up my alley,” Annaud said. It’s set on the vast plains of Inner Mongolia, “one of the most remote places in China,” per Annaud.
The 3D, widescreen movie is budgeted at a reported $38 million — big for France, huge for China.
It adapts the eponymous 2004 novel by Lu Jiamin, published under the name of Jiang Rong, which has sold over 20 million copies, making it the second most read book in China after Chairman Mao Tse-Tung’s “Little Red Book.”
The China Film Group, Bill Kong’s Edko Films and Annaud’s Paris-based Reperage produce; Wild Bunch sells rights to Europe.
Lu’s autobiographical novel was 30 years in the writing and is, according to Annaud, “an emotional story with the emotion of vastness.” It follows a student, Chen Zen, sent from Peking to Inner Mongolia to teach a nomadic tribe of shepherds in 1969.
But it is Chen who ends up learning from the tribes folk about existence on the plains and their near-mystical bond with that wolves that a government apparatchik wants to exterminate.
Annaud sees Lu as a soul brother. The year that Lu was dispatched to Mongolia, Annaud was sent to teach film in Cameroon as part of his military service.
“It changed my life entirely. I was so transformed, my whole life was modified. I was so proud of being French from Paris, knowing Latin, Greek and medieval history. And then the next day I was sitting in the middle of the forest with an old chief,” Annaud recalled. “I discovered myself, I discovered the balance between man and nature, respect for other creatures.”
The wolves in ”Wolf Totem” are a metaphor for human society: Annaud says he sees little difference between the behavior of a pack of wolves and a pack of politicians.
There is, of course, an irony that ”Wolf Totem” is being produced by the state-backed China Film Group, while Seven Years in Tibet is still banned in China.
But China is “much more complicated, fascinating, amusing” than most people imagine, Annaud said. If Chinese authorities didn’t like his version of Wolf Totem, he would not have made the film, he added.
[Original article by John Hopewell in Variety, http://variety.com/2013/biz/news/director-jean-jacques-annaud-presents-wolf-totem-1200483985/, accessed May 20, 2013]
[Images of Annaud and wolf trainer Andrew Simpson from http://www.creativehandbook.com/page-industry-print-print-349-StateIndex-na.html]