(1999) dir. Eric Valli
Beautiful landscapes. Interesting people. Too bad it wasn’t a documentary.
Well-meaning French director Eric Valli’s intent was to make a film about the salt-trading people of the Himalaya region to document their fading way of life, presumably one that has not changed for centuries. His narrative, I believe, was based on an actual event or story.
But the film’s narrative takes very western bent, a very traditional style of characterization and of story-telling. The cinematography is beautiful (filmed on location in the Himalayan mountains), in that the landscapes are stunning and the faces of the non-professional acting cast are fresh and interesting. With those strong subjects, good cinematography almost becomes a “point-and-shoot” situation…it is hard to go wrong.
However appealing the photography, the film feels over-directed. The camera movement seems excessive. And the handling of the non-professional cast significantly hides their lack of professionalism. While this sounds like a good thing, it seems to hide the charm that can arise from the use of untrained actors behind slightly more polished and less-interesting standard performance styles.
I am sure that this sounds nit-picky. But that is how I read it.
It almost seems that a documentary of the film’s production could be much more interesting, though the slow 20 minute featurette that accompanies the film on the DVD is so lacking in pace and action that it perhaps begs the question. Though still an interpretation, showing the people as they are, perhaps a little more literally, rather than viewing them through a foreign-born visitor’s concept of story-telling, might have offered a more honest and insightful view of their world.