Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|The Saltmen of Tibet|
Actors: Margen, Pargen, Zopon, Bopsa
Director: Ulrike Koch
Genres: Indie & Art House, Documentary
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Very pretty, very doco
avoraciousreader | Somewhere in the Space Time Continuum | 03/01/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is an intriguing glimpse at a vanishing tradition among a little known people in one of the world's most(harshly) beautiful and romantic territories. This film deals with the same people, if not the same individuals, as the book "Nomads of Western Tibet" by Melvyn C. Goldstein and Cynthia M. Beall, and the two complement each other nicely. The book is highly recommended for those interested in more about this culture, and the photography, if anything, is even more stunning.The film concentrates on four men as they mount their yearly expedition with pack animals to collect salt at a distant lake or salt-pan. Formerly, many groups made the trip, and it was a mainstay of their economy. Now, due to competition from salt gatherers using trucks, it is barely profitable and fewer and fewer make the effort. The focus is narrowly on the trip and preparation, and the process of gathering salt once they've arrived, all of which is surrounded by centuries of custom and ritual (there is even a secret language spoken only on the salt trip). But we learn much of the more general culture as it impinges during or before the expedition. It largely could have been filmed a hundred years ago, though occasional telephone/power lines or a passing truck intrude jarringly. Except for a brief comment at the end, the story is told entirely in the images and (subtitled) sounds captured by the camera. The subjects do speak at length, for if not to the camera, and talk about much of what they are doing, but still some context (even a map) would have been appreciated. [An optional commentary track on the DVD would have been an excellent way to provide this.] Even if the filmmakers were not to add a Western, anthropological, viewpoint (for instance, pointing out that when the women are not allowed to go on the expedition, this might have something to do with their being indispensible to the running of the main encampment), the exigencies of filming don't let them provide all the context that would be there for a person on the spot. For instance, at one point there is a sequence where one of the saltmen ladles steaming brownish liquid into a small churn -- is this tea which he is mixing with butter in the Tibetan fashion, or is it yak milk, or ...? We aren't there, didn't observe what went before and after, and can't even smell the steam. Nonetheless, this is a fascinating look at this one aspect of the nomads' life, even if it lacks something in context and narrative connectivity. Obligatory complaint: the subtitles are quite hard to read against the light tones of the landscape, which seriously distracts from watching the film itself. Better technology for displaying them does exist."
Matthew Thomas | WA USA | 02/13/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The cinematography/backdrop of this film is beautiful. This documentary follows a young man on his first trip to "the lake of tears" to gather salt for his tribe (along with the more experienced saltmen). The mythology of the people is that the salt flats/lake were created by the tears of the godess Tara. It shows the rituals of the Tibetan nomadic community in preparation for the pilgrimmage to the holy lakes, the planning of the yak caravan, and the long arduous journey to the lakes. It is a testament to the beauty of the country and the hardiness of the people. It is a fascinating story. I highly recommend this film."
A story of a dying culture
Michael Love | Michigan, USA | 09/29/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is a wonderful and touching documentary. A German film entirely in Tibetan with optional English subtitles. The film follows four Tibetan Salt men as they make a month long journey to the salt flats to harvest salt for their tribe. To the salt men the journey is a holy pilgrimage full of its own rituals and spiritual meaning.They take a caravan of yak on its journey and reminisce about the past and how the price of salt has gone down and how they no longer meet as many salt men from other tribes. They go over some of their legends and mythology with the cameraman to give us a better understanding of there culture and teaching. The documentary is set so the Tibetans tell their own story to the backdrop of Tibet and its mountains and harsh weather. The story is compelling and it leads you into lives of the salt men so much that you can appreciate their loss and concerns when one of the yaks falls ill.The tradition of the salt men is a dying culture; one of the most poignant moments in the documentary is when the salt men arrive at the salt flats after spending weeks traveling t only to find someone harvesting salt and loading it into the back of a truck. The honking of the trucks horn sounds the death knell of the salt man culture.I recommend this fascinating and compelling story."
Strangely fascinating, in spite of its slowness
Kenji Fujishima | East Brunswick, NJ USA | 05/11/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Ulrike Koch's documentary The Saltmen of Tibet is really a remarkable movie, but I should probably warn you about its almost funereal pace. Though the film chronicles a long journey undertaken by four Tibetan "saltmen," it's not a very dramatic journey. There are no life-or-death experiences to speak of here---except to a beloved yak---and there is no tension between these four Tibetans as there might be in a fiction film. Basically, some people might (maybe rightfully) find this film tedious.
I didn't. Koch is not aiming for high drama with The Saltmen of Tibet. I think this movie is meant to be an elegy of sorts: a requiem for a dying way of life. The Tibetan culture that is explored in parts of this film stands so steadfastly to beliefs and customs that might seem hopelessly antiquated to us today that watching them go through daily rituals or watching the four saltmen agonize over the fate of that precious yak gets us to reflect on our modern way of life. Whatever you may think after watching this movie about the way things have changed is, of course, your own personal reaction. Koch makes no judgments; she simply records, and expects us to watch carefully. And the stately pace helps to put us in a unusually receptive frame of mind. The result is strangely fascinating and hypnotically beautiful---and a little elegiac too. Modernization may be dooming this oddly touching way of life to extinction; after you watch this film, perhaps that thought will give you pause.
The Saltmen of Tibet may not be for everyone, and may not be a movie worth more than one viewing. Still, it is definitely worth seeing, for the fascinating culture it chronicles and for the reflection it generates in a viewer willing to think about the film's implications about our modern way of life. Recommended."