We've lost Judge Gordon Sullivan. He's now relocated to the Himalayas.
In a world of breathtaking beauty unfolds a classic tale of wisdom and adventure.
Most of us live in a modern, hyper-connected world. Friends and family are only a mouse click or finger swipe away, and lots of people regularly journey across a continent with ease. In this environment, it's easy to forget that there are still groups out there who aren't connected to the whole globe, and for whom a trip of a few miles can be life-threatening. Himalaya reminds us of this fact forcefully. Shot in the remote Dolpo region of Tibet, the film chronicles the struggles for power in a small tribe when tragedy strikes. Though not everyone will enjoy the barely there narrative, those with the patience will be rewarded with film filled with beautiful shots of remote vistas. Those who owned the previous DVD will want to upgrade to Himalaya (Blu-ray) for the excellent presentation.
Tinle (Thilen Lhondop) is the patriarch of an isolated tribe in the Himalayas' remotest region. Though his power is waning, he's content that his son, and his son's son will carry on his legacy. Things are wonderful until his son dies making the treacherous journey to sell the tribe's meager output of salt and wheat. When his son's best friend steps up to rule, Tinle finds himself locked in a bitter struggle for power.
Himalaya is a movie outside of time. Its use of nonprofessional actors in a remote region immediately calls to mind the midcentury experiments in neo-realism. Films like Visconti's La Terra Trema or the even earlier Redes. These films also featured nonprofessional actors filmed in simple, almost universal, stories where the elements of nature played as big a role as any of the human characters. Perhaps more significantly, the culture we witness in 1999 (the year of the film's release) is apparently unchanged from its status for generations and generations. The characters all wear handmade clothes, their occupations involve harvesting resources that have been there for millennia, and the traditions of their people seem largely unchanged by the knowledge that satellites and telephones are out in the wider world.
That puts Himalaya in the position of being a kind of time travelogue, taking us to a remote region and a seemingly remote time. Those looking for rich characters and a detailed plot will be disappointed. Instead, what Himalaya offers is an absolutely beautiful look at a region that the vast majority of us will never see. Photographer-turned-director Eric Valli spent years learning the area before embarking on his film. What we get is his privileged access to the natural beauty of the region with just enough story to tie all the gorgeous shots together.
Luckily, the film gets a near-perfect presentation as Himalaya (Blu-ray). The 2.35:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer is excellent. The presentation is beautifully film-like—grain is intact, and detail strong throughout. Close-ups of the characters' faces are wonderful, as are some of the wider shots of the famous mountains. Colors feel appropriate as well, from the brilliant white of snow-capped peaks to the deep blues in shots of water. The only problems are a couple of very minor instances of print damage, and the occasional shot that looks soft (which is more likely to be a problem with filming than this transfer). The DTS-HD 5.1 track is similarly impressive. The film's dialogue is clean and clear throughout, despite the sometimes arduous conditions of filming. Even better is the film's score from composer Bruno Coulais. It's full of rich strings, and the clarity of the presentation is striking.
Extras start with a commentary featuring Eric Valli, who is "interviewed" by journalist Debra Kellner. Valli is forthcoming on his experiences in Tibet, how he came to make the film, and what influenced the various characters in his mind. Debra Kellner returns for a 27-minute making-of documentary that follows the crew around their various Himalayan locations. We also get a mini-EPK that features a TV promo and a few short clips. Finally, the film's trailer is included as well.
Given its minimal story, Himalaya might be a slog for those not accustomed to patient viewing. The film is definitely oriented around the environment as much as, if not more than, the characters. For some viewers, that will mean the beauty of the film is lost without strong characters to hang it on.
Himalaya is true to its title, providing a portrait of a remote region of the globe that showcases the lives of little-seen characters. Fans of beautiful cinematography and travelogues will want to give this one at least a rental, while those looking for action should probably steer clear.
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