HIMALAYA (Not Rated)
Kino International Official Site
Director: Eric Valli
Producer: Jacques Perrin and Christopher Barratier
Written by: Olivier Dazat and Eric Valli with the collaboration of Jean-Claude Guillebaud, Louis Gardel, Nathalie Azoulai and Jacques Perrin
Cast: Thinlen Lhondup, Karma Wangiel, Lhakpa Tsamchoe, Karma Tenzing Nyima Lama, Gurgon Kyap
Rating: out of 5
HIMALAYA is a good summer adventure film. There aren't any pyrotechnics. There aren't any explosions. There isn't an arrogant, Armani-outfitted baddie. There aren't any scenes where the hero has to choose a wire of the right color to prevent an explosion. And there is, thank God, no CGI. In fact, there's not a cell phone or digital gadget in the entire film.
The story focuses on the struggle between Tinle (Lhondup), the chieftain of a small village in the mountainous Dolpo region of Nepal, and Karma (Kyap), a defiant young man poised to become the new tribal leader. Blaming Karma for the death of his son, and Karma's best friend, during a caravan, Tinle tries to convince the other members of the tribe that he should lead the annual yak caravan down the mountains to trade salt for grain, a journey essential to the village's survival during the long winter. The villagers express their confidence in Karma but are hard-pressed to refuse Tinle's obstinate refusal of Karma's leadership. As Tinle tries to enlist the help of his younger son, a lama (Lama), Karma puts together a caravan of his own and sets off before the astrologically appointed time that the tribal elders have calculated. Tinle enlists the elder men of the village and his grandson, Tsering (Wangiel) for his own caravan and marches them down the mountain in a race to catch Karma's caravan and prove his own worth.
Valli brings his own knowledge, gleaned from 20 years of living with the people in the Dolpo region, and the knowledge of his cast of untrained actors from the region to fully flesh out the world that he portrays. The film isn't layered with unnecessary exposition explaining the traditions and religion of these people. Instead, Valli plunges forth into the world of these people and lets the viewers follow along and figure things out themselves.
The films moves at a casual pace appropriate to the subject matter it portrays. The pace also gives one an opportunity to soak in the gorgeous scenery, lensed by Eric Guichard (LATCHO DROM) and Jean-Paul Meurisse (ZENTROPA), that was obviously part of the inspiration for the film. So interested is Valli in these people that every element of their lives start to take the shape of character in the film, from the landscape to the clothes and even the yaks themselves.
What is ultimately the great success of Valli's film is how he treats the characters. He steps back, letting the actors shape their characters, instead of the script shaping the characters for them. The simple story of the caravan and the conflict of young and old isn't incredibly intricate in its telling but it does tend to emphasize the universality of experience while opening up a new world for the audience. HIMALAYA is truly a film that takes the audience to new and exciting places, and that's more than I can say for most of the other films at the nearest multiplex.
-J. Paul Henry
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