Seven Years in Tibet [1997]

If it hadn't been for Brad Pitt signing on to play the lead role of obsessive Austrian mountain climber Heinrich Harrer, there's a good chance this lavish $70 million film would not have been made. It was one of two films from 1997 (the other being Martin Scorsese's exquisite Kundun) to view the turmoil between China and Tibet through the eyes of the young Dalai Lama. But with Pitt onboard, this adaptation of Harrer's acclaimed book focuses more on Harrer, a Nazi party member whose life was changed by his experiences in Tibet with the Dalai Lama. Having survived a treacherous climb on the challenging peak of Nanga Parbat and a stint in a British POW camp, Harrer and climbing guide Peter Aufschnaiter (nicely played by David Thewlis) arrive at the Tibetan city of Lhasa, where the 14-year-old Dalai Lama lives as ruler of Tibet. Their stay is longer than either could have expected (the "seven years" of the title), and their lives are forever transformed by their proximity to the Tibetan leader and the peaceful ways of the Buddhist people. China looms over the land as a constant invasive threat, but Seven Years in Tibet is more concerned with viewing Tibetan history through the eyes of a visitor. The film is filled with stunning images and delightful moments of discovery and soothing, lighthearted spirituality, and although he is somewhat miscast, Pitt brings the requisite integrity to his central role. What's missing here is a greater understanding of the young Dalai Lama and the culture of Tibet. Whereas Kundun tells its story purely from the Dalai Lama's point of view, Seven Years in Tibet is essentially an outsider's tale. The result is the feeling that only part of the story's been told here--or maybe just the wrong story. But Harrer's memoir is moving and heartfelt, and director Jean-Jacques Annaud has effectively captured both sincerity and splendor in this flawed but worthwhile film. --Jeff Shannon

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