There once was a tertiary student who, no matter which film he was asked about in class, would always offer the same, uncomplicated response: "The scenery was good". This student would love Himalaya.
The scenery is that of the North Western Himalayas: a village, many mountains, and extreme weather. There is virtually nothing more to admire, or even notice, in Eric Valli's turgid film.
Himalaya is the latest, cinematic equivalent to the especially bland and consumer-packaged fag-end of World Music, in a tradition of popular releases including Koyaanisqatsi (1983), Baraka (1992) and Microcosmos (1996). These are ambient, often plotless movies, mainly just a flow of images set to music, mixing exoticism with a reverence for the natural world and more than a little trippy mysticism.
Himalaya, with its cast of non-professional actors, aims to be more of a folk tale than its precursors. It tells a story of fathers and sons, patriarchal leadership, and defiance of the Gods. It is a journey-film writ large, a trek not only across land but through the stations of life and death – like the most sanctimonious IMAX movies.
Valli was perhaps aspiring to emulate the 'peasant' simplicity of recent Iranian cinema in fixing his barrage of beautiful images to such a story. But Himalaya is a fatally artless film: there are faces and landscapes, but nothing resembling a true style or viewpoint. It exhibits zero narrative craft.
I am rarely bored in movies, but this one made me want to climb the walls. All the same, I do not doubt that some audience members will happily tune into the undemanding, New Age vibe of this film.
And to these eager customers, I can truthfully testify: the scenery is good.
MORE ambience: Naqoyqatsi
© Adrian Martin December 2000