Travellers and Magicians

Reviwed by Peter Calder

8 October 2005 (The New Zealand Herald ) — This is an irresistibly charming metaphysical road movie which is also an easily digestible Buddhist parable.

The second film written and directed by one of the leading incarnate lamas of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, it claims to be the first feature made in Bhutan, the tiny Himalayan kingdom sandwiched between Bangladesh and Tibet.

However, the same claim was made for the director's first film, The Cup (2000).

This movie has a much stronger sense of place — and it's a more Buddhist film in many ways. It gets firmly to grips with one of the central tenets of Buddhism — that desire is the root of human suffering.

The main character, Dondup (Dendup), is a minor Government official in a remote village where the only action is daily archery contests.

He hates his life where there are "no restaurants, no movies and no cool girls" and dreams of escaping to America. When an opportunity comes, he dons his flamboyant sneakers and I love NY T-shirt, picks up his little boom box and hits the road.

Needless to say, the journey does not go as planned and Dondup's objective moves father away with each step. On the road he meets a monk (Kinga), an irritatingly cheerful travelling companion and inveterate storyteller.

The yarn the monk spins is a secondary narrative which holds a mirror up to Dondup's life: Tashi (Dorji), lost in a storm, stumbles into the isolated cottage of an elderly man (Penjore) and his lustrous, much younger and plainly discontented wife. One thing leads to another.

"The minds of human beings are so convoluted," the monk says at one stage. "What we hoped for yesterday we dread today." And that's really the business of the movie. If the point is made none too subtly, it's nonetheless a charming and accomplished piece of work.

It's also a film of extraordinary beauty. Its shots of mist-filled valleys, clear mountain skies or fairy-tale forests are as good as being there.

CAST: Tshewang Dendup, Sonam Kinga, Lhakpa Dorji, Gomchen Penjore, Sonam Lhamo
DIRECTOR: Khyentse Norbu
RUNNING TIME: 108 mins
RATING: PG, adult themes and low-level coarse language

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