Released in 1997, “Seven years in Tibet”, signed by Jean-Jacques Annaud and worn by Brad Pitt, suffered the wrath of Beijing. Pattern ? The issue of Tibet, ultra sensitive within the Middle Empire. And the penalty was not long in coming…
1939: Heinrich Harrer, the best mountaineer, leaves his wife to participate in an expedition in the Himalayas. When war broke out, Harrer and his companions were taken prisoner by English troops. In 1944, he succeeded in escaping and managed to enter Lhasa, the spiritual capital where the young Dalai Lama resides. The lost adventurer and the lonely child become friends. But China is about to invade Tibet…
Within the Middle Kingdom, censorship is frantically agitated, in all possible areas. Movies are no exception. On the contrary even. In 1997, the Beijing censorship offices had a field day, twice: on Kundun, Martin Scorsese’s film, and Seven Years in Tibet by Jean-Jacques Annaud, carried by Brad Pitt who slips in the clothes of mountaineer Heinrich Harrer.
As with anything remotely related to Tibet, both films were banned, because they presented China in a negative light, due to the invasion of Tibet in 1950-1951. The Dalai Lama is considered by the Beijing authorities as a separatist leader and a threat to Chinese control of this region of the Himalayas.
Disney, which had produced and distributed Bundle, ignored the warnings of the Chinese authorities during the production of the film. In return, the company suffered a temporary retaliatory measure: all the films in the firm’s catalog were banned. This ban was lifted two years later, for the release of the animated film Mulan.
As for Brad Pitt and Jean-Jacques Annaud, they were entitled to preferential treatment, if one dares to say. Not only did Columbia Tristar Films, which distributed this film, join Disney and its subsidiary Touchstone on the bench of temporary bans on their films, but the actor was banned from entering Chinese territory for 17 years. Same price for Annaud.
The ban wasn’t lifted until 2014, when the actor accompanied his then-wife, Angelina Jolie, to Shanghai to promote her movie Maleficent. Annaud was able to shoot his (beautiful) film The Last Wolf the following year, with a Chinese cast, in the landscapes of Inner Mongolia. A film in the form of honorable amends for the filmmaker, who adapted there a Chinese bestseller released in 2004, The Wolf Totemand sold more than 20 million copies.