Review: Himalaya – Himalaya – l’enfance d’un chef (1999)

Himalaya – Himalaya – l’enfance d’un chef (1999)

Directed by: Eric Valli | 104 minutes | drama | Actors: Thilen Lhondup, Gurgon Kyap, Lhakpa Tsamchoe, Karma Wangel, Karma Tensing, Labrang Tundup, Jampa Kalsang Tamang, Tsering Dorjee, Rapke Gurung, Pemba Bika, Karma Chhewang, Tenzen Charka, Yangzom, Gyalsen Gurung, Sangmo Gurika, Karma Angbu Gurung

In 2000, the French-Nepalese production ‘Himalaya’ was the first Nepalese film to receive an Oscar nomination (best foreign film). The film gives the viewer a glimpse into the life of the Dolpopa, a tribe that lives in the high-altitude Tibetan mountain region of Dolpo.

Although the Dolpopa are largely self-sufficient, their wild homeland does not always contain enough food and natural resources to survive. Therefore, they regularly export salt to lower-lying villages in exchange for grain, other food and shelter. The Dolpopa transport their goods with the help of yaks, partly domesticated and robust cattle that can withstand extreme weather conditions and also cope well in rough and rocky terrain. The advance of modernity poses a serious threat to the traditional way of life of the Dolpopa, a situation that applies to most natural peoples who initially survived the global advance of industrialized societies.

Central to ‘Himalaya’ is the generational conflict between the old tribe leader Tinle and the young dog Karma, who slowly but surely sets himself up as aspiring leader. Tinle is still a true old-fashioned leader: authoritarian, rigid and filled with a holy belief in traditional gods and customs. Karma questions many of those ancient customs and traditions and uses a more pragmatic, rational and modern compass. The conflict between the two is well worked out and forms the main thread that runs through the film. Besides the relationship between Tinle and Karma, Himalaya also pays a lot of attention to the way of life of the Dolpopa and the stunningly beautiful, but also terribly demanding landscape.

The way director Éric Valli portrays the Dolpo region and the impressive yak caravans reveals that he also has a background as a photographer. Most of the shots are beautiful atmospheric paintings that also tell a story – without the addition of words or text. It will therefore come as little surprise that ‘Himalaya’ won a well-deserved César (French film prize) for best photography. The characters that appear in ‘Himalaya’ are largely played by people with no acting experience, a choice that contributes to the authenticity and the sometimes somewhat documentary-like character of the film. Although ‘Himalaya’ is based on a relatively simple story and sometimes moves a bit slowly, it is a beautiful, skillfully made film that lives mainly on the excellent camera work and overwhelmingly beautiful landscapes and views. A nice alternative if you are tired of the traditional Hollywood patterns.

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