American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
The brothers in "Two Brothers" are tiger cubs when we meet them, prowling the ruins of temples in the jungles of French Indochina, circa 1920. With their mother and father, Kumal and Sangha live an idyllic life, romping and wrestling and living on air, apparently, since no prey ever seems to be killed. The movie never really fesses up that tigers kill for their dinner; that would undercut its sentimentality. The result is a reassuring fairy tale that will fascinate children and has moments of natural beauty for their parents, but makes the tigers approximately as realistic as the animals in "The Lion King."
The movie is astonishing in its photography of the two tigers, played by an assortment of trained beasts, augmented by CGI. It is less wondrous in its human story, involving such walking stereotypes as the great British hunter, the excitable French administrator, the misunderstood Indochinese prince, and the little French boy who makes friends with Sangha and sleeps with him at an age with Sangha is plenty old enough for his own bed, preferably behind bars.
"Two Brothers" was directed and co-written by Jean-Jacques Annaud, whose international hit "The Bear" (1989) did not sentimentalize its bear cub but treated it with the respect due to an animal that earns its living under the law of the wild. In that one, the speech of the hunter (Jack Wallace) was presented not so much as language as simply the sounds that human animals make. In "Two Brothers," the cubs may not understand English, but they get the drift. In both films, Annaud achieves almost miraculous moments, the result no doubt of a combination of training, patience, and special effects. We're usually convinced we are looking at real tiger cubs doing what they really want to do, even when it goes against their nature. Occasionally there will be a scene that stretches it, as when Kumal, who was trained in a circus to jump through a ring of fire, apparently uses telepathy to convince Sangha he can do it, too.
The first half hour or so involves only the cubs, and these scenes play like a scripted documentary. The beauty of the tigers and the exotic nature of the locations are so seductive we almost forget the movie has human stars and will therefore interrupt with a plot. But it does.