Wednesday, July 4, 2001

Himalaya

Posted By on Wed, Jul 4, 2001 at 12:00 AM

Himalaya is a fictional film set in the same milieu as the recent documentary The Saltmen of Tibet. Directed by National Geographic photographer Eric Valli, its main point of interest is its wide-screen travelogue beauty and its depiction of the persistence of an isolated group of Tibetans who toil among the breathtaking mountainous vistas at the roof the world.

Unfortunately, the story is of only moderate interest. Tinle, the aging chieftain of a saltman tribe, feels threatened by the young and charismatic Karma, especially after his son and heir dies in a mysterious accident. Tinle, who comes on like a half-mad Tibetan Lear, believes that Karma engineered the death and bans the young man from the annual, and arduous, trek to the salt fields. Since tribal life centers around these journeys — the gathered salt is a form of currency for the tribe — this is a serious snub, but the willful Karma is undeterred and takes off with his own caravan of faithful followers.

At this point the mood of the story shifts from ethnographic study to rugged adventure as the two caravans traverse the unfriendly landscape and head toward an inevitable confrontation and inter-generational showdown. Actually “adventure” may be too strong a word — a yak falling off a mountain is as about as rousing as it gets — and the documentary and fictional aspects of the story blend uneasily. What’s shown is beautifully strange while what’s told is overly familiar. For real insight into the saltmen’s lives, the above-mentioned documentary remains the definitive work.

Opens Friday exclusively at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple, W of Telegraph). Call 248-542-0180.

Visit the official Himalaya Web site at www.kino.com.

Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for Metro Times. E-mail him at letters@metrotimes.com.

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