DIRECTOR: BERNARDO BERTOLUCCI
COUNTRY: USA/ITALY 1994
CINEMATOGRAPHY: VITTORIO STORARO
MUSIC: RYUICHI SAKAMOTO
WRITTEN BY: Bernardo Bertolucci
CAST: Keanu Reeves (Siddartha), Ying Ruocheng (Lama Norbu), Chris Isaac (Dean), Bridget Fonda (Lisa), Sogyal Rinpoche (Kempo Tenzu), Alex Wiesendauger (Jesse), Raju Lal (Raju), Greishma Makar Singh (Gita)
SUPER FEATURES: Bertoluccian epic, again.
It's hard to dislike this film. It's also hard to say that it is a masterpiece. But it is easy to say that the film has a nice touch, something that is endearing, and lovely, and is not a pushy political film, or religious whatnot. Slow at the start, but very vibrant and moving, and enjoyable later.
One can not help thinking that unlike many other religions, this story of the Tibetan Buddhism monks, and their lineage, is a very interesting one. Unlike many religions, their sacred ground has been taken away. And they have been forced to co-exist against tremendous odds, and have managed to withstand a lot. They still thrive, and will forever prove that having it in the heart is more important than having a country for a home. But above all, they will teach something that most do not see. They have learnt to be flexible, and to be a part of other lives, and styles. How these things will develop in time, is really what this film is about.
The story is simple. A monk, in Seattle, happens to come across a child that appears to have all the indications that he is one of the incarnations of the leader, who is dying. And the monks, are excited enough to have to try and bring this child to their temporary home, to see how the child will behave next to the other candidates, and how things will develop.
The start of the film is awkward, and a bit slow, if not bland, which may have been intentional. Seattle is a modern city, with its modern inhabitants, and its modern everything. But it is STILL. Nothing moves. There is no action. All is un-exciting. The lifestyle appears to be illusory, and not real. The colors are bland. And the two parents (Chris Isaac and Bridget Fonda) are approached by one local monk, and eventually they are introduced to a Lama, the high representative of the group. The child shows every notion that he is indeed a great candidate. He is alive and curious about the story of Buddha which the monk is telling him through a few books. And the story comes alive for us. A great example of how our minds can be ever so much more lively than the reality surrounding us.
The monks finally convince the couple to allow the child to come to Tibet, for a period of time, for all the monks to see him interacting with everyone else. And maybe some incidental training along the way, depending on how the parents allow it.
The couple is having a hard time, their life is beginning to fall apart, and Dean is losing his job, and has to figure out how to salvage it all into another job. Perfect time to take a breather. He decides to go to Bhutan with the child. And the film changes completely. All of a sudden there is breath, life, space, and time. Everything moves. The monks breathe and we can hear them. The children play and we can enjoy it. The story of Buddha finishes and the new story takes over.
The child is placed with a couple of other candidates for lamahood, a young boy and a small girl. Unlike Jesse, Raju has a bit of the Hindu upper class crust in him, and the little girl is very much brought up by the same class. They were prepared for all this and are expected to fulfill that role. Jesse is more independent, but also less manipulated. He enjoys his freedom. The father, in the meantime is just watching life all around him. He has become a non-character, it seems, in search of himself. He is still the father, and never too far away, but he seems to
have gained a trust and faith that he didn't show before.
Jesse is indeed the apparent incarnation that the monks have been looking for. And he is treated and revered as such. The little boy hardly understands any of this, but he has an aptitude to connect with some of the monks that is rather nice to watch. The father and son leave for Seattle, and on the story continues. A few subtleties, which are un-important to the life of the film are shown, but even the mother does not realize it. Jesse says that he can hear his new brother. The mother does not know yet if it is a boy or girl that she is carrying. End of story.
The prettiest thing in this film, hands down, is the acting (well unfair to call it that, but ... ) of Sogyal Rinpoche, a renown Lama and emissary of the Tibetan Buddhist movement. His character, no matter how similar to his own duties, is a treat to watch, undoubtedly a pleasant person regardless. He is gentle, never forceful, respectful, and very lively to watch with the children. And he has mastered the character's inner strength to lead himself into the Bardo layers as he is in the final moments of his stay in the earth. The suggestion is that Jesse will be the one
carrying on his knowledge.
Another magnificent thing in this movie is RYUICHI SAKAMOTO's score for the film. Outstanding music, beautifully designed and blending into the colors of the film, in some quiet and subtle ways that just slowly crop up, and start to make you feel it all. Truly beautiful music. Few soundtracks are written with such care, and design in mind. One gets the feeling that the scenery was built to match.
And the last great thing in this film, is the cinematography of Vittorio Storaro. There is some magic about the way this man colors a Bertolucci
film, but perhaps it is the director that helps design it all. It is truly beautiful to watch.
Chris Isaac is good. Keanu Reeves as Siddartha is also good, even if many people have had a hard time seeing an american actor in this kind
of a role. And the monks are extraordinary. One could only hope that the Catholic counterparts showed this much poise, character, and
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