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

Director: 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, Sang Phuti Gungika, 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 rugged homeland does not always provide enough food and natural resources for survival. That is why they regularly export salt to lower-lying villages in exchange for grain, other food and shelter. The Dolpopa transport their wares with the help of yaks, partly domesticated and robust cattle that can withstand extreme weather conditions and also manage well in rugged 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 of the indigenous peoples who initially survived the global advance of industrialized societies.

Central to “Himalaya” is the generation conflict between the old tribal leader Tinle and the young dog Karma, who is slowly but surely emerging as an aspiring leader. Tinle is still a true leader of the old school: authoritarian, rigid and filled with a holy belief in the traditional gods and customs. Karma questions many of those old customs and traditions and relies on a somewhat more pragmatic, rational, and modern compass. The conflict between the two is worked out well and is the main thread running through the film. Besides the relationship between Tinle and Karma, Himalaya also has a great eye for the way of life of the Dolpopa and the stunningly beautiful, but also terribly demanding landscape.

The way in which director Éric Valli portrays the Dolpo region and the impressive yak caravans reveals that he also has a background as a photographer. Most recordings are beautiful atmospheric paintings that also tell a story – without the addition of words or text. It is therefore not surprising that “Himalaya” won a well-deserved César (French film prize) for best photography. The characters that emerge in “Himalaya” are largely played by people with no acting experience, a choice that adds to the authenticity and sometimes documentary-like character of the film. Although “Himalaya” is based on a relatively simple story and sometimes a bit slow on the way, it is a beautiful, expertly made movie that mainly lives from the excellent camera work and overwhelmingly beautiful landscape pictures and views. A nice alternative if you are tired of the traditional Hollywood screens.

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