Sunday, January 11, 2009

Movie Review: The Saltmen of Tibet; Ulrike Koch, dir; 1997

You'd think a 110 minute film about the nomadic salt collectors of Tibet might get a tad tedious. How much can there be to tell, after all, about scraping up salt from a lake, bagging it, and carrying it back to the village?

Not much, actually. So it was to the audience's benefit, and to the director's credit, that he let the camera do the talking. In simple documentary style, with no narration and unobtrusive background music, the film crew follow four men who make the annual trek from their summer camping grounds to Lake Tsentso to collect salt. We watch them as they plan the expedition, collecting yaks from members of the community that will carry back the salt, initiating a new member into their fold, and making the ritual offerings to propitiate the gods and ask their favor in making a successful journey. The group sets out with over 160 yaks on a month-long trek across rugged and beautiful landscape, the struggle of the journey made all the more touching by buses, cars, and lorries whizzing past on a nearby road. These men will be perhaps the last generation to collect salt in the traditional manner. They seem to be aware of this, which makes their journey all the poignant, The Saltmen of Tibet all that more precious for documenting a culture in its dying days.
  • 1997
  • Director Ulrike Koch
  • Tibetan w/ English subtitles
  • At Amazon



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