006/2019 – Seven Years in Tibet
(Jean-Jacques Annaud/1997/US, UK/136 mins)
This is a biopic of Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrrer (Brad Pitt), who came to India in early 1939 to scale the imposing Nanga Parbat, got arrested by the British to be kept in an internment camp as World War II began, and escaped to Tibet with his group-mate Peter Aufschnaiter (David Thewlis). The following seven years there, he was transformed by the spiritual Tibetan community, and his friendship with His Holiness, The 14th Dalai Lama. He returned to Austria post Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1951. The book, translated into 53 languages, woke up the world to the plight of Tibet.
The movie seems to have a few creative liberties. Heinrich’s Nazi affiliations are barely explored; his relationship with his son is shown as far too important; some incidents, like the one with Peter’s watch, don’t really seemed to have occurred; and his friendship with The Dalai Lama may have been depicted a little too informally. However, Richard Gere, a good friend of The Dalai Lama, who was first considered for the role of Heinrich, declined the film but offered to send the screenplay to His Holiness for his approval. The Dalai Lama was pleased with it. Annaud, Pitt and Thewlis remain banned in China for their work in this film.
Small oversights though. When Heinrich and Peter finally reach Tibet, they are constantly told “no foreigners allowed”, but they seem to be very easily accepted by the people in Lhasa, and the advisors to His Holiness. Peter’s marriage to a Tibetan woman ruffles no feathers. The pay off in this case is too hunky-dory for the set up. Brad Pitt fails to bring enough gravitas to the latter part of his role, while David Thewlis is effortless throughout. At 136 minutes, I would have loved to spend a little more time in Tibet, and know Heinrich’s relationship with The Dalai Lama some more in depth, but I guess I’ll have to pick up the book.
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