Posts Tagged ‘Bhutan’

“LUNANA: A YAK IN THE CLASSROOM” My rating: B+ (On demand)

110 minutes | No MPAA rating

The familiar trope about the pompous city slicker who falls for the simple charms of the sticks gets an innovative reworking in the Oscar-nominated “Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom.”

This quiet heart-tugger from the Himalayan nation of Bhutan (It’s been nominated in the foreign language film category) opens in the tiny country’s capital city where twenty something Ugyen (Sherab Dorji) dreams of rock stardom, hopefully in Australia. The closest he’s gotten to fame, though, is open mike night at a local club.

In fact, Ugyen is a bit of a spoiled slacker, resentful that he still has a year to go on his national service contract as an elementary school teacher. He’s even less thrilled when he’s assigned to finish out the year in the mountain town of Lunana, the most remote burg in Bhutan and, by extension, site of the the most remote school in the world.

It takes a long bus ride and a week of uphill walking to even get to the place, and Ugyen almost immediately announces to the town’s headman, Asha (Kunzang Wangdi), that he wants to get back to civilization like, yesterday. The place is cold, the homes are heated with burning yak dung, and there’s no way to recharge Ugyen’s precious iPod (forget about cell phone service).

The school itself is basically four walls, a couple of unsteady tables. No supplies. No paper. No blackboard.

Screw this.

Except…there are the people. Like Michen (Ugyen Norbu Lhendup), Ugyen’s mountain guide, exuding uncluttered decency and charity from every pore. Or Saldon (Keldon Lhamo Gurung), serenading her herd of yaks, singing traditional songs with the voice of an angel. And especially Pem Zan (Pem Zan), a jawdroppingly adorable little girl thrilled to learn at the feet of this worldly guy from the big town.

Ugyen Norbu Lhendup, Pem Zan, Sherab Dorji

The deal is sealed when Saldon lends the teacher her favorite yak, Norbu, who takes up residence in the classroom (where it’s relatively warm) and supplies Ugyen with yak patties for the stove.

Little by little, our man gets sucked into life at the top of the world. And we along with him.

Writer/director Pawo Choyning Dorji manages to avoid all the predictable cliches to deliver a hugely satisfying movie experience. This is all the more amazing when you consider that “Lunana…” has no plot to speak of…no big dramas, no swooning romance. Yet it modestly expands to fill and feed the viewer’s soul.

Special nod to cinematographer Jigme Tenzing, whose images effectively capture both the lush forests of the lower slopes and the semi-barren mountain crests surrounding Lunana. Like almost everything about this movie, they are effortlessly poetic.

| Robert W. Butler

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“HAPPY” My rating: B- (Opens Sept. 16 at the Tivoli)

75 minutes | No MPAA rating  

Early in the documentary “Happy” we get a quote from Benjamin Franklin to the effect that while the Declaration of Independence guarantees our right to pursue happiness, actually catching happiness is up to us.

Roko Belic’s film examines human happiness, where it comes from, how people have gained and preserved it, the circumstances under which it seems to flourish.

Belic interviews scientists and psychologists and religious leaders who have specialized in the study of happiness, and their comments about the emotion’s source (nature vs. nurture, dopamine levels, etc.) are enlightening.

Far more effective though, are the man-in-the-street examples Belic has found all over the world, from a sixty-something South American surfer to Okinawan villagers who lead blissful lives well into their 100s. (more…)

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