7 Years in TibetDIRECTOR: Jean-Jacques Annaud PRODUCERS: Michael Besman, Richard N. Goodwin, David Nichols, Iain Smith SCREENPLAY: Becky Johnston, Heinrich Harrer (book) CAST: Brad Pitt, David Thewlis
In 1939, a famous and accomplished Austrian mountaineer named Heinrich Harrer (Brad Pitt), and his friend PeterAufschnaiter (David Thewlis), set out to climb one of the highest peaks in the Himalayas. Obsessed with fame and glory, Harrer ends up with a clearer view of his own shortcomings. He escapes from a British prisoner-of-war camp, and endures a harrowing two-year trek through the Himalayas to the mysterious Tibetan city of Lhasa where he befriends the young Dalai Lama.
"Harrer has everything he wants," says director Jean-Jacques Annaud. "He's good looking and very successful, but he's unhappy. It was important to understand that money and success meant nothing compared to self respect. It is self-respect that is difficult to obtain."
The quest for self-respect and inner peace is the whole story of the film according to the director. "Harrer is a man who leaves his country very famous, with lots of possessions, but very unhappy. He returns with no possessions but himself. And he is very happy."
Much was made of the fact that Harrer turns out to have been a Nazi, and some lines were added to his character to the effect that he regrets his unskillful past. Brad Pitt's Austrian accent is passable, and he shares the starring spot with the majestic scenery captured so beautifully by Annaud, as well as with David Thewlis, a marvelous actor who starred in Mike Leigh's Naked, a performance which earned him best actor awards from the Cannes Film Festival.
Annaud resists the cliche of depicting how the young Dalai Lama transforms a egotistical seeker of fame into genuine seeker (or as one review called it, a photogenic Buddhist precursor to Richard Gere.) Instead he reveals a more real-life character who struggles to adapt without truly changing, but discovers within himself an appreciation for self-realization.
Filming was supposed to take place near Tibet in India, but after many frustrating delays and red-tape, locations were switched to the foothills of the Andes, on the Argentina-Chile border, which offered landscape reminiscent of Tibet. Scores of yaks had to be flown in from a herd in Montana, and the official movie press notes that each animal needed a passport and photo. After filming, the yaks were appropriated by local zoos.
See the film website for clip In Tricycle, Orville Schell speaks with screenwriter Becky Johnston.