Seven Years In Tibet

The arrogant Aryan and his holiness the Dalai Lama: There's a pairing with which Hollywood could do some scary things. Fortunately, French director Jean-Jacques Annaud's resolutely un-Hollywood sensibilities forestalled anything on the order of Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer (Brad Pitt) swinging in on a rope to rescue the youthful Dalai Lama (Jamyang...read more

Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
Rating:

The arrogant Aryan and his holiness the Dalai Lama: There's a pairing with which Hollywood could do some scary things. Fortunately, French director Jean-Jacques Annaud's resolutely un-Hollywood sensibilities forestalled anything on

the order of Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer (Brad Pitt) swinging in on a rope to rescue the youthful Dalai Lama (Jamyang Jamtsho Wangchuk) from Chinese bombings. Unfortunately, this visually sumptuous epic is the very definition of a "prestige production," swaddled in good taste and better

intentions. Harrer's memoirs of the years 1939 to 1952 chart the profound personal transformation prompted by his friendship with the teenage Dalai Lama, and provide a glimpse of a country then all but closed to foreigners. Harrer and countryman Peter Aufschnaiter (David Thewlis) undergo all

manner of privations while slowly making their way to the holy Tibetan city of Lhasa, witnessing Tibet's brutal annexation by Communist China in the process. The film's great liability is neither Pitt's fairly creditable performance (even if the occasion of his inevitable shirt shedding is highly

suspect) nor the revelation that Harrer dabbled in Nazism. It's that Harrer's metamorphosis from selfish, grandstanding jerk to pretty decent guy is the sort of intense internal journey notorious for being eclipsed by the mega-wattage of high-profile celebrity (Exhibit A: Bill Murray in THE

RAZOR'S EDGE). Meanwhile, Tibet's reluctant entry into the 20th century -- which culminates in its bloody reassimilation by China -- is devastatingly portrayed, but crammed into rather too little screen time: A full hour into the movie, Harrer and Aufschnaiter are still being repelled at the

Tibetan border. And just when you think it's all over, the film hits you with a plea for Tibetan relief: Get ready for Lama Aid.

{