1 item from 2000
Unforgettably physical, movingly human and undeniably spiritual, Eric Valli's Nepalese adventure "Caravan" is potentially a strong contender for the foreign-language film Oscar, if it gets the nomination insiders are predicting. Winner of the People's Choice Award at the 1999 Locarno Festival in Switzerland, the film is currently a big hit in France under the title "Himalaya".
The French-Swiss-British-Nepalese co-production was a crowd-pleaser at the recent Nortel Palm Springs Film Festival and could lure respectable art house crowds Stateside. Born in France, Valli has lived in Nepal since 1983 and was an Academy Award nominee for his 1991 short documentary "Birdnesters of Thailand" (a k a "Shadow Hunters").
Slow-paced and reminiscent of nonfiction works in its observance of routine life experiences, the picture is not to be confused with a National Geographic special -- even though that is exactly the arena from which Valli comes. "Caravan" has an amazing cast of mostly local talent in a story inspired by Valli's friendship with two real men, including the central character of Tinle (Thilen Lhondup). A "yakpa," or cowboy, aging fighter Tinle is played by his real-world counterpart in a performance of riveting authenticity.
An old chief determined to hold on to power when his son is accidentally killed before the film begins, Tinle in the film's story faces a struggle of wills with a younger and stronger rival. Accusing Karma (Gurgon Kyap) of murder, a charge that no one else seems to take seriously, Tinle risks everything when it comes time to lead a caravan of yaks to transport salt to faraway markets.
Not big enough to ride but woolly and sure-footed, yaks are the cows in this 5,000-meter-high eastern western, set in the Nepalese Himalayan region known as the Dolpo. While at times the characters are cliff-hanging daredevils, the action is fairly sedate by John Wayne standards. Still, there are acts of heroism, a love story and memorable lines to go with the marvelous characters.
Valli's second main source of inspiration was an elderly monk named Norbou, and in the film Norbou (played by real-life Tibetan lama Karma Tenzing Nyima Lama) becomes Tinle's other son, leaves his monastery and poignantly comes to help as best he can with the caravan. Fatherless Passang (Karma Wangiel), Tinle's grandson, is being groomed to be the next chief, but he is still a boy, while his mother, Pema (Indian actress Lhapka Tsamchoe), is seriously drawn to the young bachelor Karma, her father's enemy.
Tinle leads the village elders in a desperate second caravan after Karma leaves on his own with many followers, in a split that threatens to cause much suffering and hardship. Sticking with the sacred traditions but not above taking a dangerous shortcut -- which leads to the film's most breathtaking sequence as men and yaks maneuver around a crumbling path overlooking a magnificent mountain lake -- Tinle pulls off a miracle or two, but he knows his day in the sun is over.
Filmed on location splendidly in widescreen by cinematographers Eric Guichard and Jean-Paul Meurisse, and in all ways benefiting from superior production values, "Caravan" winds up to a satisfying, if deeply sad, conclusion that finds the caravaning Dolpopas nearly done in by a deadly storm on their journey home.
France 2 Cinema, Bac Films,
Les Productions de la Gueville
Les Productions J.M.H., Antelope,
National Studio Limited
Credits: Director: Eric Valli; Screenwriter: Olivier Dazat; Producers: Jacques Perrin, Christophe Barratier; Executive producer: Jean de Tregomain; Cinematographers: Eric Guichard, Jean-Paul Meurisse; Set designer: Jerome Krowicki; Editor: Marie-Josephe Yoyotte; Costumes: Karma Tundung Gurung, Michel Debats; Music: Bruno Coulais. Cast: Tinle: Thilen Lhondup; Pema: Lhapka Tsamchoe; Karma: Gurgon Kyap; Norbou: Karma Tenzing Nyima Lama; Passang: Karma Wangiel. No MPAA rating. Color/stereo. Running time -- 110 minutes.
1 item from 2000
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