Tuesday, 18 August 2009


The tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is best known for its Gross National Happiness index, of which they are very proud. The concept was introduced in the seventies to encourage the population to celebrate cultural and social values rather than financial comfort, and still pervades much of the culture today. Filmmaker and lama Khyentse Norbu certainly embodies this with his second film, a road trip movie which lightly condemns the influence of consumerism. Dondup, a government official, is a vehement Americaphile who has grown disenchanted with his isolated Buddhist village and wants to escape to the States. When he bungles the first leg of his journey, he winds up making the arduous trek to the Bhutanese capital Thimphu, accompanied by an omnium-gatherum of curious characters. A monk he encounters tells him a story of a traveller who succumbs to the lure of the West, but this does little to shake his determination.

Unlike Norbu's other film The Cup, Travellers & Magicians was shot entirely in Bhutan, and his patriotism certainly shows through the cinematography. On the whole, the film is absolutely beautiful thanks in no small part to the breathtaking landscapes. The style changes between sharp fact and soft-focus fiction gets a little irritating after a while, but the experience is energising and actually more universal than expected. Lead actor Tshewang Dendup, bringing to mind Korea's cuddly leading man Choi Min-Sik (Oh Dae-Su in Oldboy), plays a believable, lovable character, and saves the film from being an existentialist Buddhist pamphlet.

No comments:

Post a Comment