When the Rialto theater opened just over a year ago, I was happy to see a showcase for art films and foreign cinema come to my town. At first I was there every weekend, sometimes two or three times. Then I moved out to the country, and taking a few hours out of the day to see a movie became a rare occurrence.
There's no excuse for this, really. The theater isn't in the next county, and the Sebastopol Cinema near my house shows some of the same films (but not regularly). But I've felt isolated, or tied down, or something, out here, and I haven't gone to a movie by myself in months.
Today I went into town to see Himalaya, which I'd heard of only yesterday and knew nothing about. It sounded like something that should be seen on the big screen, though. The director is Eric Valli, who among other things is a National Geographic photographer, so the breathtaking scenes of mountain vistas were no surprise.
The story was a surprise, though. Mostly non-professional actors play Nepalese villagers, fictional versions of themselves, coping with a crisis of leadership when their chief is killed. A battle between the old guard and the young pretenders becomes a classic story of the painful transition from one generation to the next.
Two competing caravans of yaks head over the mountains to trade the villagers' salt for the grain they need to sustain them. One group is led by the aging father of the dead chief, the other by the chief's young assistant. The old man is bound by traditional ways but sustained by his knowledge of the mountains. His rival has the stamina and enthusiasm of youth but sets out with a brash overconfidence.
The long, difficult trek over steep rock and through blinding snow becomes a test of the resolve of both men and their followers. These proud people put as much pressure on themselves to succeed as the external conditions impose on them. In the end, survival depends on examining how much they are willing to take upon themselves, and how much they leave in the hands of fate.