August 31, 1997 -- "Seven Years in Tibet" is one of those big, sprawling epics like last year's "The English Patient" that remains a very personal story despite the vast expanses of scenery.
Unlike the melodrama of lust and intrigue of "The English Patient," however, "Seven Years in Tibet" is a subtle story about personal growth, as well as the tragic end of a beautiful, fragile culture.
Brad Pitt stars as Heinrich Harrer, a self-centered Austrian mountain climber who goes on a mountaineering expedition to the Himalayas in 1939, coldly leaving behind his pregnant wife. The Nazi German-sponsored expedition is forced to abandon the mountain, Nanga Parbat, by bad weather and is promptly captured by British troops and sent to a prisoner of war camp in northern India at the outset of World War II, which began while the group was climbing.
Eventually Harrer escapes with another member of the climbing team, Peter Aufschnaiter (David Thewlis of "Naked" and "Dragonheart"). The two decide to head for Tibet, the most remote and isolated country on earth.
After a grueling journey and after being chased away several times (outsiders were not welcome there) the two finally find sanctuary in the holy city of Lhasa. Aufschnaiter wins the heart of a local tailor, Pema Lhaki, (well-played by the lovely Lhakpa Tsamchoe), to whom Harrer is also attracted. Harrer later is befriended by the young Dalai Lama himself.
Harrer teaches the young Dalai Lama about the Western world and the two become close friends, which makes Harrer miss the son he has never seen even more, a fact that is not lost on the wise young Dalai Lama. The red Chinese army begins to invade Tibet at that time as well and we see the beginning of the destruction of Tibet's unique, peaceful culture.
All this is a backdrop to Harrer's personal journey. He finally is forced to look inside himself and confront the love for he has for his son. He finally realizes he has just been running away. He must make one final journey. The story is based on Harrer's book about his experiences in Tibet. The woman who plays the mother of the Dalai Lama in the film, Jetsun Pema, is actually the sister of the real Dalai Lama.
The film doesn't have the drama of "The English Patient," but is an interesting story both in human terms and in terms of a fascinating bit of history and a glimpse of a beautiful culture. It also features wonderful cinematography by Robert Fraisse of mountains in the Himalayas, South America and Canada. This film rates a B.
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