Seven Years in Tibet (1997 film)

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Seven Years in Tibet
Seven Years in Tibet cover.jpeg
Film poster
Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud
Produced by Jean-Jacques Annaud
Iain Smith
John H. Williams
Screenplay by Becky Johnston
Based on Seven Years in Tibet 
by Heinrich Harrer
Starring Brad Pitt
David Thewlis
B.D. Wong
Mako
Danny Denzongpa
Victor Wong
Ingeborga Dapkūnaitė
Jamyang Jamtsho Wangchuk
Lhakpa Tsamchoe
Jetsun Pema
Music by John Williams
Cinematography Robert Fraisse
Edited by Noëlle Boisson
Production
company
Mandalay Entertainment
Reperage & Vanguard Films
Applecross
Distributed by TriStar Pictures (USA)
Entertainment Film Distributors (UK)
Release dates
  • October 8, 1997 (1997-10-08) (United States)
  • November 21, 1997 (1997-11-21) (United Kingdom)
Running time 136 minutes
Country France
United States
United Kingdom
Argentina
Language English
German
Mandarin
Tibetan
Budget $70 million
Box office $131,457,682

Seven Years in Tibet is a French 1997 film based on the 1952 book Seven Years in Tibet written by Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer on his experiences in Tibet between 1944 and 1951 during World War II, the interim period, and the Chinese People's Liberation Army's invasion of Tibet in 1950. The film was directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud and starred Brad Pitt and David Thewlis. The score was composed by John Williams and features cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

In the story, Austrians Heinrich Harrer (Pitt) and Peter Aufschnaiter (Thewlis) are mountaineering in the north of India. When World War II begins in 1939, because of their German citizenship they are imprisoned by the British in a POW camp in Dehradun in the Himalayan foothills, in the present-day Indian state of Uttarakhand. In 1944, Harrer and Aufschnaiter escape the prison, and cross the border into Tibet, traversing the treacherous high plateau. While in Tibet, after initially being ordered to return to India, they are welcomed at the holy city of Lhasa, and become absorbed into an unfamiliar way of life. Harrer is introduced to the 14th Dalai Lama, who is still a boy, and becomes one of his tutors. During their time together, Heinrich becomes a close friend to the young spiritual leader. Harrer and Aufschnaiter stay in the country until the Chinese military campaign in 1950.

Plot[edit]

Heinrich Harrer (Brad Pitt) and his pregnant wife Ingrid (Ingeborga Dapkūnaitė) are being driven to the train station in Graz, for Harrer's departure on an expedition to Nanga Parbat in the Himalayas. Harrer, Aufschnaiter (the leader, whom Harrer resents), and the expedition group arrive and begin climbing the mountain. After an avalanche, Aufschnaiter orders the group to retreat back to the base, despite Harrer's determination to reach the summit. On reaching the base, they learn that Britain has declared war on Germany, so they are arrested by British Indian authorities and taken by truck to Dehradun prison camp, now in Uttarakhand state. Ingrid writes to Harrer with divorce papers. After several unsuccessful escape attempts, Aufschnaiter manages to steal a British uniform and several of the prisoners escape. The members of the group go separate ways, with Harrer heading for the adjacent foothills of the Himalayas.

The rest of the group, apart from Aufschnaiter, have been recaptured. Aufschnaiter plans to travel to eastern China to find work. However, he joins group with Harrer and the two cross the border into Tibet and set out east, but are intercepted by two men on horseback who tell them that foreigners are strictly forbidden in Tibet because of an ominous prophecy from the 12th Dalai Lama. They are brought back to India, but they escape and climb up the Tibetan Plateau. Harrer and Aufschnaiter join pilgrims traveling to Lhasa, covering their faces to avoid recognition as foreigners. When they try to steal food, Kungo Tsarong (Mako) invites them to stay at his home. At the guest quarters of Tsarong's home a Tibetan tailor named Pema Lhaki arrives to measure the two men; though both Aufschnaiter and Harrer take interest in her, Aufschnaiter wins her over and subsequently marries her.

The foreigners are observed through a telescope by the young Dalai Lama from the nearby Potala Palace. The Tibetan regent, Ngawang Jigme (B. D. Wong), on orders of the suspicious government in Lhasa, visits the Chinese embassy in the city and tells the officials there to stop subsidizing the monasteries. A Chinese official offers to bribe Ngawang Jigme, but he refuses. The Dalai Lama's mother (Gyalyum Chenmo) instructs Harrer on courtesy when meeting the Dalai Lama. Harrer enters the interior halls of the Potala Palace. At the Dalai Lama's request, Harrer begins tutoring the Dalai Lama in world geography and the ways of the west.

While Harrer and Afschnaiter are attending a party, a Tibetan turns on the radio and a Chinese announcer proclaims that they plan to invade and occupy Tibet. That night, the Dalai Lama has a prophetic nightmare of Chinese atrocities near the Tibetan border in Taktser, his birthplace, with monasteries being burnt down.

Three Chinese generals fly to Lhasa to speak with the Dalai Lama, but they are visibly contemptuous of him and the leader of the delegation tells Ngawang Jigme that "religion is poison". The Dalai Lama sends Ngawang Jigme to lead the Tibetan army at the border town of Chamdo to halt a Chinese advance, but Ngawang Jigme surrenders and then blows up the Tibetan ammunitions dump after a sadly one-sided battle in which hundreds of Tibetans are slaughtered by better equipped and trained Chinese troops. During a treaty signing in Lhasa, Kungo Tsarong tells Harrer that if Jigme had not destroyed the weapons supply, Tibetan guerillas could have held the mountain passes, buying time to appeal to other nations for help. As the Chinese invade and occupy Tibet, Harrer visits Ngawang Jigme to menace him about "betraying his culture".

The Dalai Lama, now fifteen years old, is formally enthroned as the spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet. Harrer pays a final visit to the Lama on top of the Potala and prays with him. Harrer bids farewell to Aufschnaiter and Pema and returns to Austria in 1951 to visit his son Rolf, now a young boy. His son refuses to meet with him, but Harrer leaves for him the music box that the Dalai Lama gave him when he departed Tibet. Harrer and Rolf are then seen mountain-climbing, suggesting he did mend his relationship with his son at the end of the film.

The film ends with a series of title cards that list figures that quantify the death and destruction as a result of Chinese occupation. Harrer kept a good relationship with the Dalai Lama after he had to flee from Tibet to India; the two stayed in touch until Harrer's death.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Most of the shooting took place in Argentina, in the city of La Plata (the train station where Heinrich leaves for Unserberg is the Main Train Station of La Plata, for example), and in the Mendoza Province, in such places as the Andes chain of mountains. Some time after the film's release, director Jean-Jacques Annaud confirmed that two crews secretly shot footage for the film in Tibet, amounting to approximately 20 minutes of footage in the final film. Other footage was shot in Nepal, Austria, and Canada.[1]

Music[edit]

John Williams
Seven Years in Tibet
Film score by John Williams
Released September 30, 1997
Genre Soundtrack
Length 65:53
Label Sony
John Williams chronology
The Lost World: Jurassic Park
(1997)
Seven Years in Tibet
(1997)
Amistad
(1997)

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack[edit]


Comparisons between the film and the book[edit]

There are a number of significant differences between the book and the film.

In the film, Harrer is hailed as a 'German hero', and replies "Thank you, but I'm Austrian". To have said that in 1939 would have been extremely bold, since Austria had been part of Greater Germany since the Anschluss of April 1938.[2] In the book, Harrer says nothing about any such remark. Harrer at the train station in 1939 appears hostile to the Nazi Party, taking their flag with reluctance. The real-life Heinrich Harrer was in fact a committed Nazi Schutzstaffel officer.[3]

The film makes his son a key theme, but in the book, Harrer does not mention his wife or son. He had in fact been married and divorced, as the film shows, but his ex-wife's new husband was killed in the war and Harrer's son was raised by his ex-wife's mother.[4] In his autobiography, Harrer gives details of his contact with his son, but nothing to support what the film shows. In the book, Harrer says there was little to tie him to home as one of the reasons for staying in Tibet and not returning to Europe.[5]

The pre-invasion visit of Chinese Communist negotiators to Lhasa, arriving at an airfield constructed by Tibetans, and their departure for China after a brief conference with their Tibetan counterparts—including the desecration of the sand mandala as well as the "religion is poison" remark as depicted in the film, do not occur in the book or in any of the numerous histories that have been written about the matter. There was no air link until Lhasa Gonggar Airport was constructed in 1956—when the Dalai Lama visited Beijing in 1954, he used the still-incomplete road system.[6]

The whole sequence of negotiations and the installation of the Dalai Lama as ruler are out of sequence. Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama was enthroned as the temporal leader of Tibet on 17 November 1950. After the Chinese crossed the Jinsha River and defeated the Tibetan army in October 1950, a Tibetan delegation was sent to Beijing and agreed on the Seventeen Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet.[7] Meanwhile, the Dalai Lama left Lhasa and took refuge on the border with India and Sikkim. The Dalai Lama disliked the agreement, but returned to Lhasa and for several years and tried to work within its terms.[5]

Release[edit]

Seven Years in Tibet premiered on September 13, 1997 at the 20th annual Toronto International Film Festival. The film was commercially released on October 8, 1997 in the United States and Canada, with the film being distributed to 2,103 theaters for its domestic opening weekend. After its run, the film grossed $37,957,682 domestically and $93,500,000 overseas with an overall box office gross of $131,457,682.[8]

Critical reception[edit]

Based on 33 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, the film received a 61% approval rating from critics, with an average score of 6.3/10.[9] Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating in the 0–100 range based on reviews from top mainstream critics, calculated an average score of 55, based on 18 reviews.[10]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times acclaimed the film in general, stating that "Seven Years in Tibet is an ambitious and beautiful movie with much to interest the patient viewer, but it makes the common mistake of many films about travelers and explorers: It is more concerned with their adventures than with what they discover.[11] Additionally, Ebert believed that the film was told from the perspective of the wrong character and thought that the casting of Pitt and Thewlis should have been switched around. Derek Elley of Variety praised the film's overall production value, but thought that "for a story with all the potential of a sweeping emotional drama set in great locations, too often you just long for the pic to cut loose from the ethnography and correct attitudes and go with the drama in old Hollywood style."[12]

Controversy[edit]

As the film was being released, it was condemned by the government of the People's Republic of China, stating that Communist Chinese military officers were intentionally shown as impolite and arrogant, brutalizing the local people. However, the Dalai Lama's portrayal has been noted as a positive one.[13] Director Jean-Jacques Annaud and stars Brad Pitt and David Thewlis were banned from ever entering China. Annaud has since been welcomed back to China with open arms in 2012 to chair the jury of the 15th annual Shanghai International Film Festival.[14] Also in dispute is the use of "Chinese Embassy in Tibet" and the term "occupation of Tibet", in view of the Tibetan sovereignty debate.

See also[edit]

  • Kundun, another 1997 film depicting the Dalai Lama during his youth.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Canada Tibet Committee: Director Secretly Filmed In Tibet
  2. ^ Shirer, William L., The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Chapter 13. Shirer says of the plebiscite "it took a very brave Austrian to vote No".
  3. ^ Weinraub, Bernard (June 21, 1997). "Dalai Lama's Tutor, Portrayed by Brad Pitt, Wasn't Just Roving Through the Himalayas". The New York Times. 
  4. ^ Beyond Seven Years in Tibet, by Heinrich Harrer
  5. ^ a b Seven Years in Tibet
  6. ^ Dalai Lama, Freedom in Exile, Hodder & Stoughton 1990
  7. ^ Shakya, Tsering. The Dragon In The Land Of Snows. (1999). Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-11814-7. pp. 32-45.
  8. ^ "Seven Years in Tibet (1997)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved September 12, 2012. 
  9. ^ "Seven Years in Tibet Movie Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved September 12, 2012. 
  10. ^ "Seven Years in Tibet (1997): Reviews". Metacritic. CNET Networks. Retrieved September 12, 2012. 
  11. ^ Roger Ebert (October 10, 1997). "Seven Years in Tibet :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved September 12, 2012. 
  12. ^ Derek Elley (September 27, 1997). "Variety Reviews - Seven Years in Tibet - Film Reviews -- Review by Derek Elley". Variety. Retrieved September 12, 2012. 
  13. ^ Canada Tibet Committee: "Hollywood's New China Syndrome (The Los Angeles Times) 'Red Corner,' 'Seven Years in Tibet' and 'Kundun' take the country's human rights record to task, especially regarding its treatment of Tibet. How will the Chinese react to filmdom's scrutiny?"
  14. ^ Jonathan Landreth (June 15, 2012). "Shanghai Film Fest: Q&A with director Jean-Jacques Annaud". Los Angeles Times (Tribune Company). Retrieved September 11, 2012. 

External links[edit]