by Rob Gonsalves
'Seven Years in Tibet' was the first of two films in 1997 to deal with the Dalai Lama. The other was Martin Scorsese's 'Kundun'; it has no American actors, much less Brad Pitt, so it was a tough sell. Now that both are on video, though, I recommend renting 'Kundun.'Seven Years in Tibet adheres to Hollywood's Rule of Racist Indifference: The mass white audience won't care about the life of a great man who doesn't happen to be white, unless he's the supporting character in a movie about an unimportant white guy. Thus, Seven Years in Tibet gives us the über-blond, blue-eyed Brad Pitt as mountain climber Heinrich Harrer, who is Austrian and also a former Nazi. Harrer, of course, is redeemed through his exposure to the young Dalai Lama -- it's Schindler's List meets Little Buddha.
"Brad Pitt posing a lot."
The film is certainly handsome. The director, Jean-Jacques Annaud, also made Quest for Fire and The Bear, which relied heavily on nature's watercolors and had almost no human dialogue. But Annaud's pictorial style is impressive without being expressive. Any shot from the movie would look ravishing out of context, but there's nothing under the images -- not even any storytelling pizzazz á la Spielberg. The rhythm is smooth and deadening. It's all "Look at this; look at this; ooh, look at this." It's a slide show of Tibet (actually, it's Argentina and the Andes).
Those who giggled at Pitt's allegedly Irish lilt in The Devil's Own ("Ay naid tha' mooney, Tum") should know that he has better luck with his Austrian accent as Harrer -- though he becomes noticeably less Teutonic once he starts bonding with the Dalai Lama. Cold and selfish, Harrer deserts his pregnant wife to go climb the Nanga Parbat for the greater glory of Germany -- and himself. Fully the first half of the film follows Harrer and his expedition leader Peter Aufschnaiter (David Thewlis, much more amiable here than usual) as they are captured by the British and locked up in a POW camp, which they escape by fleeing to Tibet. It's there that Harrer meets the 14-year-old Dalai Lama (Jamyang Jamtsho Wangchuk).
It's also there that the movie becomes ripe for parody. After more than an hour of solemn preparation, we get ... Brad Pitt showing a kid how to drive a car and work a radio. Wow. When the Dalai Lama isn't asking eager questions, he's spouting wisdom like a Buddhist Pez dispenser. Dumbed down for the mass audience, the teachings sound like Yoda, or worse. "If you are worried about something, change it," he says, "and if you can't change it, why worry about it?" In other words: Don't worry, be happy. Whoa, this little dude is heavy, man.
In Seven Years in Tibet, the Dalai Lama comes off as a benevolent alien -- E.T. in Coke-bottle glasses -- and Harrer learns to love the son he abandoned. (What is he, a Promise Keeper?) The last act is rushed and murky, sprinting through the Chinese occupation of Tibet -- which plays not as a climax but as an afterthought -- and winding up, finally, with Harrer and his teenage son planting the Tibetan flag on a mountaintop.One large leap for a white man, one very tiny step for the people of Tibet.
link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=481&reviewer=416
originally posted: 01/13/07 20:41:33