It doesn't really bother me when films take poetic license with true
stories and twist them somewhat to fit the needs of entertainment.
'Amadeus', 'Mississippi Burning', 'Nixon' and other films have tinkered
somewhat with history but still were great films made by talented
people. 'Seven Years in Tibet' probably would have made a better
foreign language film but it still receives a passing grade for its
story of bonding and bringing together two alien cultures that shows the
world can be made a better place through understanding at a time when
the world was on the brink of its darkest time in history.
Brad Pitt does well in an 'accent' role as Austrian mountain climber
Heinrich Harrer who meets the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of
Tibet. Director Jean-Jacques Annaud ('Quest for Fire', 'The Name of the
Rose', 'The Lover', 'The Bear') is a director of extremely withdrawn
proportions. His films are cold and devalue the underlying point of
emotion but he finds a niche for this film and makes it pay off well but
the film is no classic. It's well made and is more of a "memorable
scene here and there" type of movie. In Vienna, 1939, Heinrich Harrer
is about to embark on the Himalayan peak of Nanga Parbat. He and his
team are taken prisoner by the British (World War II has just broken
out) and Pitt later escapes and comes in contact with the Dalai Lama.
Unfortunately, the way the movie introduces us to Harrer and his
capture, occupies the first half of the film when something like this
could have been told in about 40 minutes.
Harrer begins to tell the Dalai Lama (Jamyang Wangchuk) about his
world. The young man is fascinated by it all and wants to understand as
much of it as he can. The film is written by Becky Johnston based on
the book by Heinrich Harre and the film's most outstanding trait is the
cinematography by Robert Fraisse.
I don't know how Hollywood manages to do it and many times make it a
success, but they always put many films on a collision course with each
other. In 1984 we had the three "save the farm movies" --- 'Country',
'The River' and 'Places in the Heart' right up to 1997 where we had two
erupting volcano movies like 'Dante's Peak' and 'Volcano' to 1998 with
two giant meteor movies like 'Deep Impact' and 'Armageddon'. Martin
Scorsese's 'Kundun', also released in 1997 with 'Seven Years in Tibet'
is a much better film about the Dalai Lama in terms of technical
aspects. In fairness, because the Dalai Lama was in many ways a
character in history that was hard in getting to know, both films about
him in 1997 tried but came up just short of capturing more than just the
superficial side of the man. Perhaps that's a good thing as many films
are better left to the imagination when you leave the theatre or pop the
cassette out of your VCR.
Copyright © 1997 Walter Frith