Monday, September 08, 2008

unmistaken child; lovely, still

It feels like a wonderful expression of the cultural mix of our world that an Israeli filmmaker has made a movie about Tibetan monks searching for a reincarnated master. Unmistaken Child, is a beautiful essay in the complexities of buddhist tradition, without having to get out a dictionary of world religions. Lama Konchog, a venerated lama has died and Tenzin Zopa, his disciple of 21 years, is grief-stricken. Finding a footprint in the ashes of the great master's funeral pyre, along with several pearls, the lamas and rinpoches of Zopa's monastery believe the master to be intending reincarnation. The disciple is put in charge of the search, one he doesn't feel worthy of. Thus begins this wonderful film. As Zopa travels through the communities of his home Tsum Valley, he carries the rosaries of the late master and asks each baby he encounters, "do you recognize this?" Just as we are wondering how such a divination could ever occur in a child just one year old, the magic begins. A fascinating aspect of this film is also its depiction of what happens to a child, once they have been recognized as a 'Rinpoche' (reincarnated master). Shot over four years, we watch this child grow slowly and gain a greater confidence in the knowledge of who he is. But I was most moved of all by the beautiful attention and caring patience of Tenzin Zopa himself, who lavishes the love of a disciple who sees clearly his deceased master in the eyes of the child. One such moment comes when he sits the child on his knee at the mountain retreat where he himself first met Konchog, and tells the boy all about their first encounter, when he himself was a boy. Rain on the windows of the residence of the Dalai Lama, the lush foliage of the valley, the beautiful smile of the disciple are images that won't leave me soon.

I went into Nik Fackler's Lovely, Still with very little expectation and was pleasantly surprised. Featuring Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn, it tells the story of a man and woman who meet up late in life and fall very quickly in love, only to leave us, and each other, with the feeling they have done all this before. There have been a number of movies lately, and fine ones too, that have attempted to deal with Alzheimer's Disease: Sarah Polley's Away From Her comes quickly to mind. In Lovely, Still, the drama takes on the disease completely within the world of the one living it - so that all of the surprises of understanding come for us at the same time as for our hero. It is a wise choice, and allows us to feel the highs that the Landau character experiences in being in love, without sensing something amiss. When he starts to become paranoid about her absence, reality slowly shifts in for us. It is material which could have been trite or overbearing, but Fackler handles it with sensitivity and great confidence for a first feature.
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