Badpuppy Gay Today

Monday, 13 October 1997


Film Review by Jack Nichols


I wasn't prepared to hear Brad Pitt faking an Austrian accent, but I got accustomed to it after the first time he smiled. And yep, it was good seeing him again--this time around—as those Tibetan Buddhists might put it.

Stately statues of the Buddha figure artfully—but without being overbearing presences—in this true-to-life tale of a laughing friendship between the wise young Dalai Lama and handsome Heinrich, a bold mountain-climbing, jack-of-all-trades played by the ingenious Pitt.

As Heinrich matures its a pleasure to see him—using Brad's artistry—turning from a wildman-child of unfocussed abandon into a man who weeps more beautifully on screen than has been allowed by any other actor in history. His weeping is especially beautiful because it is so fraught—in the drama—with the awareness the character has developed as he's grown up far away from his native land.

This is just the kind of expert alien role— one flanked by life's passionate enigmas and ironies—that continues to make of Brad Pitt's films a body of intriguing character studies. The anti-hero, at first clumsy and bewildered, grows up, achieving in his own life—in spite of dire agonies— beauty at its most convincing, turning into an unforgettable bloom that flowers for a few glorious moments.

Don't go for popcorn during the dream shots of this great actor minus his shirt, but do notice, pray, that the true telltale signs of his beauty—while considerable across his chest—are in his eyes. And, of course, those lips. Brad knows how both lips and eyes are needed to compose the best smiles.

He also knows that humanity longs to see stark visual evidences of passionate and principled spirits at work in an actor, or in human faces generally. Whoopie Goldberg knows these secrets of attraction too and uses them well. Earthy wisdom translates into beauty. It is not just a picture of pleasure either. Some, like Pitt, know that a sense of "world-sadness" is, if wisely incorporated, as natural a part of beauty as is a smile.

The cheerful, always curious Dalai Lama and a host of other Tibetans represented in this film come across as zestful and gentle. They are clearly a warm, cultured, highly-civilized and compassionate people, inspired by insights grown recognizably on the roof of the world, highly-evolved spiritual blooms in the treasured greenhouse of our planet's religious systems.

His Holiness is shown first as a boy and then as a youth befriending Heinrich (Brad) and requesting his mentor-ship. The Dalai Lama, though surrounded by his attendants, is portrayed as a down-to-earth monk who in real life remains, it is said, filled with undeniable mirth, inexhaustible human sympathies, and far ranging curiosity.

An attractive Tibetan woman in the movie tells Brad there's a big difference between her civilization and his World War II Austrian one. In Brad's world, she explains, a man is considered attractive if he pushes his way to the top. In hers, a man is admired for the show of his mastery as he learns instead to eliminate the curse of an overbearing ego.

Some reviewers say this extraordinary film by Jean-Jacques Annaud, "has Oscar written all over it." If audiences do react to the amazing breadth of its expansive spirit, it will win because it exudes such pure attitude, an uncanny personable ease that leaves room for heartrending poignancy.

Seven Years in Tibet is certainly a controversial film too. It bravely shows the brutal entry of Mao's Communist China into a mythical Shangri La, killing a million Tibetans, demolishing 6,000 monasteries, moving hordes of ethnic Chinese across Tibet's borders and criminally destroying everything the invaders fancy to be Tibetan culture. Finally, after standing his ground, the Dalai Lama was later spirited to safety, thousands of Tibetans following him into northern India at a magical site called Darmsala.

From there, this remarkable man has since waged a non-violent struggle--perhaps the most dignified and measured reply to tyranny ever known--a struggle against China's pompous central government which has callously usurped the admirable autonomy of his ancient people.

This exhilarating film succeeds, therefore, in turning an exciting, exotic drama into a first-rate experience in personal awareness, using psychological strategies of such surprising subtlety that Rolling Stone calls it "a lavish, stirring tale with feeling and purpose." Newsweek says it's "lushly evocative."

I say it's a movie that does Brad Pitt proud. To gush simply that he's grown as an actor risks denigrating his past work, usually tantalizing and provoking. But with Seven Years in Tibet comes a brand new view of Pitt's expressive face, supplied by clear close-ups taken in rich afternoon sunlight.

It's this actor's face, after all, that turns those everlasting paparazzi nudie shots of his torso into quite secondary extensions of his reality. Its a face that for this reviewer has become, hands down, Hollywood's most overpowering and appealing sex organ. Its forays into compassion explain why actor Pitt was properly chosen by filmmaker Annaud to befriend a loving representation of that precious human presence among us, the 14th Dalai Lama.

© 1997 BEI; All Rights Reserved.
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