Callum Cutter (Jonnie Hurn), fastidious 30something head of his own failing Advertising Company who troubles his employees with his increasingly strange ways, struggles to find meaning in the soulless world he is shackled as he faces the challenge of selling the unsellable product.
His only solace is his bi-weekly Tai Chi Class and the cigarettes he is addicted to. His life needs to change and it does so in the shape of Malika (Julie Dray) a stunning free-spirited French woman unbound by the conventions or responsibilities of the world who enchantingly appears without warning and immediately starts to question everything he believes in and relies upon. Through her unique blend of psychology and seduction she persuades him to abandon his make-or-break advertising campaign for a few soulsearching days roughing it in a forest in her native Brittany.
Whilst his employees, lead by the boisterous Marrlen (Marc Warren) mutiny at hiscompany the normally immaculate Callum is subjected to a series of increasingly demoralising trials that tease his mind and taunt his perception of the world, culminating in an intense moment of catharsis at the ominously named “Lake of No Return” revealing to Callum not only the hidden meaning to his unfulfilled life but also the perfect way to sell the unsellable product. Directed by Paul Hills and shot on location in London and Brittany “Do Elephants Pray?” is an ethereal drama that baits the spirit and demands answers that may or may not exist.
“Do Elephants Pray?” is based on real events in the life of the writer Jonnie Hurn. To be faithful to its origins, my first creative decision was to shoot the film in the location where it had occurred, in the magical forest of Brocéliande in Brittany. The forest is famed for its legends and myths, the feeling for which, I hoped, would enthuse the film. A director’s job, I believe, is to create an enviroment where magic can take place in front of the camera. That was certainly true in Brocéliande.
My next decision was that we must shoot in autumn so that we could contrast the beautiful yellows, browns and reds of the forest with the artificial things in Callum’s world -- which is metalic, plastic and unatural. I decided also to mirror the mise-en-scène cinematically with stranger more contrived compositions in the world of advertising, contolled centralised compositions in Callum’s life outside the office compared with an increasingly more liberated, free flowing visual style in the forest, moving from static compositions, to pans and eventually to extensive steadicam shots. The Tai Chi scenes are meant to be a slight of pre-emption of the forest.
“Malika’s” first appearence is deliberately magical and surreal. I felt we needed that. In my opinion, amazing characters should make amazing entrances. The challenge, of course, was then to continue with this level of imaginative story telling!
As the free-spirited Malika challenges Callum’s perception of himself, I felt I also had to challenge Callum. Every day in the forest the load in the bag he carried would be increased by the addition of one more rock and each day I tried to spring a new surprise on him, to alter his belief on how a scene might be played out. Even though we had a great script, I used extensive improvisations, either transcribed from rehearsals or actually live on camera. To me, this is the best way to breathe life into something, to achieve a fecund cinematic vitality. After all, “Do Elephants Pray?” is actually about life, about finding that primordial spark that for many reasons is obsured by day to day existence.
Do Elephants Pray? was a life-changing experience for all who made the film, myself included.