Seven Years in Tibet

A new kind of religious discovery as blonde-haired, blue-eyed Austrian Heinrich Harrer (Brad Pitt) is climbing every mountain not so much to the sound of music as to the sound of a different drummer. (Has anyone seen "Joanna Lumley in the Land of the Dragon", a recent BBC travel documentary starring Patsy of Ab Fab fame? It might have quite easily also have been titled "Seven Days in Tibet" and they could also have referred to our Joanna as little yellow head while she contemplates more Eastern religion and displays more prayer wheels than the hunky flavored American seen in this film sporting a broken German accent.) No mind-moving mandalas here, folks, only a bad excuse for a star vehicle with which the producers discovered, later than might have been wished, that their hero used to be a home-grown Nazi before he became the esoteric teacher of the 4-year old Dalai Lama. (Come to think of it, the film about the making of the film might have served as material for a comedy romp.)

In 1939, the egocentric and hard headed Harrer leaves his distraught wife, Ingrid, heavily pregnant as he leaves to conquer Nanga Parbat. Naturally, this man is destined to become an Austrian national hero. (Things, however, as we shall discover, proceed differently than planned because of that nasty World War interfering not only with his life, but also with his plans.) His mind wandering sometimes toward his newborn child whilst he dangles from the mountain range, he badly injures his leg and later endangers the life of co-climber Peter Aufschnaiter (David Thewlis). As a result, their relationship takes a dive. When they arrive back at ground level, they are surprised to discover that the war has begun and they are technically behind enemy lines. Placed under immediate arrest, he will, after endless attempts, escape from the British P.O.W. camp. While enjoying the hospitality of Her British Majesty, he discovers that his wife has traded her high- reaching Harrer for one Horst and has further decided to tell their son that his father has died in a climbing accident. All this distressing news makes him want to escape even more than he did before. The Forbidden City of Lhasa in Tibet is where the arrogant teutonic dreamboat cum Austran mountaineer winds up. It looks like seven years in Tibet for Heinrich, so he better get used to it. He should, in fact, be happy about it, because, despite the dangerous part of the journey, it is not usual for strangers to be welcomed there. Not only does he become welcomed, but the little Dalai Lama becomes completely enchanted with him. (Well, after all, it is Brad Pitt. The Last Emperor, it is not.)

Director Jean-Jacques Annaud has done marvelous things in the past with cave people who can't speak and bears who need do no more than growl, but it seems he's met his match with actors who can enunciate syllables and form words. His use of scenery is, as usual, stunning, but that doesn't manage to carry it off. Assisted by a deplorably naive and presumptuous screenplay written by Becky Johnston which pretends to contain a message (,though where it might be hidden seems more mystical than the tale itself). The story, one assumes, of a man in search of himself with the Himalayas as background; the question, at the end of the film, remains looming as large as the landscape. David Thewlis adds what grace he is able to, despite dialogue too thin to display his or anyone's capabilities.

The scenery is nice. You have to give it that. I more than expected Pitt as the newly enlightened Harrar at the end of the film, atop the mountain with Rolf, his "jungend," some years later, to break into a verse of "Unser fahne flattert uns voran."

© 1994-2006 The Green Hartnett