Recently, I went to see the film "Himalaya". I had heard about this film from some climber friends who raved about it. It sounded to me like a travel film or perhaps a boring documentary which usually bore me but I went anyway, knowing that I would at least enjoy the Himalayan scenery. I came away in awe of this brilliant film.

More than one American movie reviewer has compared this film to an American Western, apparently seeing no more in it than the similarity of a Yak drive to a western cattle drive. Believe me, this is not the Eastern equivalent of a posse of cowboys with shit on their boots searching for McDonalds as some of the American critics would have us believe. It is much more.

Frankly this was one of the best films that I have ever seen. Director Eric Valli of National geographic documentary fame has created a masterpiece on his first try at directing feature films.

The story is a fictionalized account of the life of Tibetans who live in the Dolpo region of Nepal. There is death, romance, revenge, heroism, spirituality, tribalism, generation conflict and survival, all developed in the metaphor of the Yak drive. The actors are local residents, dignified people with weather-beaten faces. Thankfully, there is no Brad Pitt or clone to be found in this film. The actors play themselves and do a convincing job of it.

The scenery and the cinematography is almost surreal. The Yak drive takes place over some of the most stunning landscape imaginable. This is a visual orgy of images. The sound track is other worldly, with throat singing, orchestral chimes and strings, chants and shouts, creating sounds that capture the rhythm of the place and add greater power to the visual imagery.

The spirituality of these people manifests itself throughout the film. Rhythms of life and man's place as a active participant in the natural world are important themes. It is the deep spirituality that separates this film from others especially those produced in the American wasteland.

To be fair, I must concede that Hollywood has moved on from its earlier Cowboy days a la John Wayne. To-day, Hollywood is more likely to offer a strutting Kung Fu expert, Rambo or a clone, bazooka in hand jumping into a waiting vehicle for the inevitable car chase as he saves the world from anything non-American. In contrast, Himalaya is a deep, profound and moving film offering instead a glimpse into an ancient and fascinating culture that shouldn't be missed.

And as for the film reviewers, they have sold their souls to the Hollywood Movie corporations. Ignore them and go and see this film. You won't regret it.

Bob Bennell
September 2001

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