Friday, March 24, 2017
SEVEN YEARS IN TIBET
(October 1997, U.S.)
By rather bizarre coincidence, it was only today that a couple of people in my office were discussing Brad Pitt and his ability to display convincing foreign accents in some of his films. Immediate films that were cited were his Irish accent in THE DEVIL'S OWN (1997) and his thick Cockney accent in SNATCH (2000). Of course, leave it to me to point out his Austrian accent in SEVEN IN TIBET, which I informed my colleagues of having just recently watched for the purpose of this post. This is where the office conversation just about came to a stop because it seems that I was the only one of the group that had seen the film (should I be surprised??).
Pitt plays real-life Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer who chooses to leave his estranged wife and unborn son to seek his glory in the part of British India that would one day become Pakistan. At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, he and his partner Peter Aufschnaiter (played by David Thewlis) are captured by the British and placed in a POW camp. After several failed escape attempts, Heinrich and Peter finally escape the camp and manage to cross the border into Tibet, despite the overall attitude of no foreigners allowed. Once inside the great capital city of Lhasa, they have become welcomed house guests and quickly manage to adapt themselves to their time-honored customs and traditions (including protecting the worms of the earth because the people believe they were once their mothers in a former life - ???). Heinrich is eventually introduced to the Fourteenth Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, who is still just a little boy back then, and develops a relationship of trust in which he also becomes his tutor of the outside world, including maintaining the task of building Tibet's first movie house simply to please the boy's desire's for American culture. The two of them become close friends and it's not long before Heinrich's previous ways of selfishness and indifference are replaced with an understanding and appreciation of the Holy ways of the Tibetan religion which he also seeks to help heal the loss of leaving his child.
Bearing in mind, of course, that a war is still on outside this protected world, it's not long before communist China has invaded the city of Tibet and occupied its people. This is a fact of history, and the film doesn't seek to sugar coat it in any way. Those of us who know even a little bit of world history will know that the real-life Dalai Lama was forced to flee Tibet (with the help of the American CIA) and settle in India, where he still resides today. This is about as much as I know about the man, other than what I've seen of him on television. I subscribe neither to his religion or his teachings. He exists only for me in SEVEN YEARS IN TIBET.
The film is undoubtedly filled with a great deal of cinematic beauty, often giving its own version of the life of the explorer and the traveler. It starts out as an ambitious adventure story and inevitably becomes something more as we're meant to try and understand the discovery and simplicity of a culture practically cut off from the rest of the world, not too unlike what we see in Frank Capra's LOST HORIZON (1937). Drama, believe it or not, feels rather limited to nothing far beyond the simple relationships of Heinrich and the Dalai Lama, as well as Peter and the woman he falls in love with and marries, as they're told in a rather old-school style of Hollywood storytelling. If nothing else, SEVEN YEARS IN TIBET is an opportunity to transport ourselves to another time in history while exploring some forgotten beauty in the world (that beauty being filmed in Argentina, by the way).
I briefly mentioned comparison to LOST HORIZON. Don't be too surprised if you're not also reminded of THE LAST EMPEROR (1987), DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990), the Eddie Murphy 1986 comedy THE GOLDEN CHILD, and even just a little bit of Indiana Jones thrown in for good measure. And by the way, I still have never seen Martin Scorsese's film about the Dalai Lama, KUNDUN, also released in 1997.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso (to Heinrich Harrer): "Do you like movies?"
(What? You're surprised I'd choose that line??)