Jean Jacques Annaud – The Man, The Epic

March 1 2012

French director Jean Jacques Annaud is perhaps well known as one of the key filmmakers in the epic genre, having helmed the successes of films including Quest for Fire, The Name of the Rose, Seven Years in Tibet and Enemy At The Gates. Born in Juvisy-sur-Orge in 1943, Annaud graduated from the prestigious IDHEC film school in France in 1964 and began his career shortly after by directing TV commercials. His first feature film, 1976’s Black and White in Color, won an Oscar for the Best Foreign Language Film. Since then he’s gone on to work with the likes of Sean Connery, Brad Pitt, Christian Slater, Jude Law or Ron Perlman, infamously receiving a lifelong denial of entry to China (along with Pitt) for Seven Years In Tibet.

Annaud’s latest opus, Black Gold, is out now at UK cinemas and stars Antonio Banderas, Mark Strong, Freida Pinto, Tahar Rahim and Riz Ahmed. To celebrate its release we take a look at some of the key releases of his illustrious career...

Quest For Fire (1982)

The story takes place in prehistoric Europe, when three prehistoric tribesmen search for a new fire source. The trio of warriors, played by Ron Perlman, Everett McGill and Nameer El-Kadi, travel the savannah, encountering sabre-toothed tigers, mammoths and cannibalistic tribes in search of a flame that would replace the fire their tribe has lost. The film won an Academy Award for best make-up and two Césars (France’s Oscar counterpart) for best film and best director. It also inspired the song ‘Quest For Fire’ from Iron Maiden’s 1983 album Piece of Mind.

The Name of the Rose (1986)

1327: after a mysterious death in a Benedictine Abbey, the monks are convinced that the apocalypse is coming. With the Abbey to play host to a council on the Franciscan's Order's belief that the Church should rid itself of wealth, William of Baskerville, a respected Franciscan monk, is asked to assist in determining the cause of the untimely death. Alas, more deaths occur as the investigation draws closer to uncovering the secret the Abbey wants hidden, and there is finally no stopping the Holy Inquisition from taking an active hand in the process. William and his young novice must race against time to prove the innocence of the unjustly accused and avoid the wrath of Holy Inquisitor Bernardo Gui.

The Bear (1988)

Annaud creates yet another film in nature with almost no human dialogue in this picturesque story of an orphaned bear cub, who is adopted by an adult male bear. In the mountainous wilds of British Columbia circa 1885, a young bear cub suffers the accidental death of his mother from a rockslide. Forced to fend for himself, the cub struggles to find food and shelter. He befriends a large male grizzly who has narrowly escaped death at the hands of two trophy hunter, who teaches him to fish and hunt. Mostly shot between the Italian and Austrian Dolomites using a combination of real and animatronic bears, The Bear was a one-of-a-kind ambitious project that received widely critical acclaim upon release.

Seven Years in Tibet (1997)

Perhaps Annaud’s best known film internationally, it is based on the memoirs of Heinrich Harrer (Brad Pitt), an Austrian mountaineer who was forced to be a hero for the Nazi propaganda. He leaves Austria in 1939 to climb a mountain in the Himalayas. Through a series of circumstances (including POW camp), he and fellow climber Peter Aufschnaiter become the only two foreigners in the Tibetan Holy City of Lhasa, where Heinrich becomes a close confidant to the Dalai Lama. The film cost Annaud, along with actors Brad Pitt and David Thewlis a ban from ever entering China. It is Annaud’s biggest box office success to date.

Enemy At The Gates (2001)

In the winter of 1942, the German and Russian Armies meet in the great Battle of the Stalingrad, one of the most vicious engagements of the Second World War. Enter into this horror a young Russian soldier, formerly a peasant boy with an extraordinary ability to sharp shoot a rifle from far distances. The Russian sniper soon gains fame after killing a record number of German officers causing the Germans to bring in their own sniper expert: a war weathered Major who always accomplishes his mission no matter what the cost. With the Battle of Stalingrad raging around them, these two men must now fight each other.

Two Brothers (2004)

Set not so long ago in a distant land, the film follows the adventures of twin tiger cubs--one shy and gentle, the other bold and fierce--who are born among the temple ruins of an exotic jungle. However, on a fateful day, the brothers are separated by fate. The bold brother is sold off to a circus, where homesickness and living in a cage rob him of his spirit. Meanwhile, the shy cub becomes the beloved companion of the governor's lonely young son, until an accident forces the family to give him away to a man who resolves to break his gentle nature and turn him into a fighter for sport. When they are fully grown the brothers find themselves reunited--but as forced enemies, pitted against each other.

Black Gold (2012)

Set in the 1930s Arab states at the dawn of the oil boom, the story centres on a young Arab prince torn between allegiance to his conservative father Salmaah (played by Mark Strong) and modern, liberal father-in-law Nesib (Antonio Banderas). While still boys, Auda (Tahar Rahim) and his brother Saleeh (Akin Gazin) were “adopted” - or taken hostage- by Nesib as a guarantee that neither man could invade the other or lay claim to the area of no man’s land between them called the Yellow Belt. The arrival of a Texan oilman who tells the Emir Nesib that his land is blessed with oil creates a new problem, as the precious oil is located in the Yellow Belt. Black Gold blends a heart-gripping story with stunning visuals and epic battle scenes, filmed over 4 weeks in the Qatari and Tunisian deserts.

Black Gold Film Page | Black Gold Review

Black Gold is out now at UK cinemas

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