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IN SHORT: Gorgeous.
This week sees the beginning of the Oscar® race for real, with a bunch of films blasting out of the New York Film Festival and the wide release of the first of two films set in Tibet in the time surrounding China's forced annexation of that mountain country. The film Seven Years in Tibet, starring Brad Pitt and David Thewlis begins by spitting the name of it's star "Brad" in big letters across the screen. Then, in bigger letter, "PITT." That's almost a death wish right there from repressed laughter but Cranky ventured on, seeking and finding more positives than negatives.
On the plus side, the cinematography (Robert Fraisse, D.P.) is gorgeous. The film doesn't feel like its running time of two and a half hours. Brad Pitt shows more ability as an actor (as opposed to a haircut) than he has to this point. The story moves along nicely and there are character transformations, political coups, spectacular production design (At Hoang, designer) and all sorts of the things that can gather nominations come next February. What the film lacks is that final, satisfactory "wow!" you feel as you walk out of the theater.
Then again, Cranky wrote almost the same thing last year about The English Patient, and we all know how that turned out.
We begin in the autumn of 1939. Heinrich Harrer (Brad Pitt), Olympic Gold medal winner and a card carrying Nazi scumbag is nasty in demeanor and uncaring in action. Our first take on the guy is that he's ditching his pregnant wife to make a climb up an Indian mountain called Nanga Parbat. Three other German teams have failed and he, being the best and seeking the glory, will take the first successful team to the top. Thinking he's German falls in line with the rest of Nazi stupidity because Harrer is Austrian and he's not in charge of the team. That honor goes to Peter Aufschnaiter (David Thewlis) who's of little use to Harrer because he puts the safety of the climbing team above the conquest of the summit. A conquest which will never happen because the weather (and therefore Aufschnaiter) won't allow it and because Britain and Germany have gone to war. Our merry mountaineers are dumped in a P.O.W. camp in India.
So far so good. The mountain scenes are truly gripping and the years in the P.O.W. camp are made more real as Harrer calculates the growth of the son he's never seen. When, after many attempts, Harrer finally escapes the camp he and Aufschnaiter cross the border into Tibet. They become foreigners in a land that doesn't like foreigners and they discover that non-violence is a law that not that all Tibetans follow religiously, when they're set upon and robbed. It's a good shoe on the other foot experience and pushes them father into Tibet than any Caucasian had ever gone.
Harrer and Aufschnaiter wind up in the "forbidden" holy city of Lhasa, home of the kidlet Dalai Lama. There, exposed to a culture where religion is king and the head of the religion, the Dalai Lama, is considered the reincarnation of a god on earth brings a change upon the Harrer during his seven year stay. He comes from a violent culture to live in a land of nonviolence. He is befriended by the Dalai Lama who seeks to learn more about the world outside his cloister. He learns to be a nice guy and, well, to like people. It is an interesting pairing to watch the friendship grow (three separate actors play the Dalai Lama) as the elder man makes the substitution for the son he has lost and the younger man is prescient enough to recognize and correct the behavior. Then China invades, politics intrude and Harrer is sent back into the real world, to deal with the life he left behind.
Telling you all that doesn't give anything away. Either you will be swept away by the uniqueness of it all, or you won't. Director Jean-Jacques Annaud keeps everything moving and the screen is continually filled with spectacular shots. Those who just care to see Brad Pitt's face cannot be disappointed. Those who expect more at this time of year, like Cranky, will walk out wondering if it was enough. But you will not be disappointed.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for Seven Years in Tibet, he would have paid . . .
If you're have any inclination to see it, do so on the big screen.
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