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Kino on Video presents
Himalaya (2000)

"No land without a leader."
- Tinle (Thilen Lhondup)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: February 11, 2002

Stars: Thilen Lhondup, Gurgon Kyap
Other Stars: Lhakpa Tsamchoe, Karma Wangel, Karma Tensing
Director: Eric Valli

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (some intense sequences during a snowstorm)
Run Time: 01h:43m:37s
Release Date: March 05, 2002
UPC: 738329023522
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A-AA- A-

DVD Review

In the remote corner of Nepal, high in the treacherous Himalaya, is the isolated Dolpo region, where the inhabitants lead an extremely difficult, and at the same time, simple life. The core of their existence is based on the trading of lake salt for grain, which involves leading a dangerous yak caravan across the Himalaya range. In Eric Valli's Himalaya, we are treated to what almost becomes a documentary at times, as a film that tracks not only the journey, but the fierce struggle that arises between the crusty Tinle (Thilen Lhondup), who is the village chief, and a young caravanner named Karma (Gurgon Kyap).When Lhapka, the chief's son, is killed during an expedition, Tinle instantly blames Karma, who served as assistant to the dead man. With the death of Tinle's oldest son now leaving an opening for the chief's successor, a subtle power struggle arises over who will take over as the village leader. Tinle recommends that Lhapka's seven-year-old son Tsering (Karma Wangiel) become the next chief, while part of the villagers recommend the headstrong Karma as the most fitting candidate. With the critical seasonal trek to exchange salt for grain imminent, and a deadly snowstorm brewing, Karma and Tinle decide to lead separate yak caravans across the Himalaya, each seeking to prove their worth to the Dolpo-pa. While Karma group is made up of most of the young village men, Tinle's ragtag troupe includes Tsering and his mother Pema (Lhakpa Tsamchoe).While the story is rather straight forward, Valli's film is simply amazing to look at. The scenery is stark and lush at the same time, with gorgeous mountain vistas giving way to barren, rock-filled valleys as Karma and Tinle lead their respective caravans. Filmed on location, without the benefit of any convenient soundstages or green-screen shots, there is a natural feel that could never have been as intricately recreated in a studio. The Dolpo village is real, not a set, and most of the actors were selected by Valli from the local populace, and give Himalaya genuine realism. To call this a breathtaking film might sound trite and sensationalistic, but it's true.Himalaya is driven by a solid cast of literal unknown Tibetans, except for Lhakpa Tsamchoe, who appeared, appropriately, in Seven Years In Tibet. The natural acting ability of Valli's cast is impressive enough to make me wonder if a group of legitimate actors could have done it any better, with Thilen Lhondup's wise and cantankerous Tinle dominating the film. He has terrifically weathered features, and his portrayal of the well-meaning village chief is handled strongly.There is subplot about Tinle's strained relationship with his other son Norbou (Karma Tensing), who is a lama living at a distant monastery. Their interaction, and disagreements, play naturally and reveal much about the core beliefs of the Dolpo-pa. When Norbou is coerced into joining the salt caravan, he develops a close relationship with Tsering that leads to a great scene where he describes a tree to the young boy, who has never seen one, as the pair sit on a rocky outcropping, huddled against the cold, with the incredible vastness of the Himalaya all around them.Some of the dramatic elements of the script seem a bit rushed near the climax, but Valli has created such a visually appealing film that it matters little.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Kino's beautiful 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is literally without flaw. Colors are deep and vivid, with the vast and rugged Himalayan scenery captured with very sharp detail. There is a lot of natural beauty in Valli's film, and this disc does not downplay that at all. From the brilliant blues of a lake, to the crisp white of a raging snowstorm, there is not really anything to find fault with here.Overall presentation is excellent.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Himalaya features a subtle 5.1 Dolby Digital track, presented in Tibetan with English subtitles. Rear channels are used effectively for ambient sound, such as birds, wind and background voices, and it creates a very enjoyable sound field. Nice use of directional imaging, as ringing yak bells pass across the fronts, notably during the dramatic caravan across the lake trail. The original score by Bruno Coulais, full of percussive Tibetan rhythms, sounds very clean and full.Engaging without being distracting.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Eric Valli, Debra Kellner
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Electronic Press Kit
Extras Review: The story of the production of Himalaya is almost as fascinating as the film itself, and Kino has issued this disc with a respectable selection of extras.CommentaryA full-length scene-specific track from director Eric Valli and fellow crew member Debra Kellner provides a wealth of background information on the film's staggeringly impressive production, including Valli's connection with the region, which began with his first visit in 1981 when he was one of the first ten or fifteen foreigners to ever set foot there. Valli's thick French accent, combined with his rather soft voice, make it sometimes difficult to decipher his comments, but there is a lot of solid information here about what he refers to as a "spiritual and technical adventure."Himalaya: The Making Of (27m:06s)A nicely done behind-the-scenes piece, narrated by Debra Kellner, traces how the film's scheduled 79 day shoot progressed to a nine month odyssey that ended just 48 hours before the beginning of monsoon season. From the lugging of 10,000 lbs of equipment and food across the Himalayas, where any mistake could be fatal, to explaining the difficult concept of movies to a remote people who have never been in a theater, let alone ever seen a film. This story of "a film about life with non-actors" could easily have run another hour, as far as I'm concerned.Electronic Press KitA series of five quickie segments of the EPK variety, featuring a combination of behind-the-scenes and final footage, relevant to a specific sequence in the film. The segments are:TV Promo Trailer (01m:35s)Yaks On A Cliff (01m:22s)Karma Leads A Caravan (01m:28s)Tinle And Norbou (01m:01)Karma Wangel On The Set (01m:16s)The disc also features easy to read English subtitles, a theatrical trailer and 16 full-motion chapters.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

This is a beautiful looking film, made all the more dramatically pleasing by the harsh location shooting. Part adventure, part love story, Valli's Himalaya provides a memorable glimpse at a distant part of the world, where life is hard and the people are sturdy.Highly recommended.


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