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Dreaming in earnest,
This review is from: Dreaming Lhasa [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
A young Tibetan filmmaker from New York in India to produce a documentary on the Tibetan political prisoners remarks on her feelings of displacement in a foreign land that she seems to be "dreaming Lhasa." Karma's imaginary capital city is to this film what the film was to its makers - an object of intense interest just beyond reach.
Wife/husband production team Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam have been making documentary films for more than a decade, with perhaps the idea of a feature film always out there on the edge of their ambition. For untested directors using an untested Indian/Tibetan crew with non-professional actors, they've reaped a remarkable return on their investment in a dream.
The story itself is quite simple, about an exile Tibetan in Dharamsala to make a documentary on the Tibetan diaspora. Karma becomes involved in the quest of one of her subjects, a former political prisoner who has come from Tibet to deliver a sacred object to a man about whom he knows nothing but a name. Together Karma and Dhondup criss-cross northern India chasing clues to the whereabouts of the mysterious Loga. Along the way the viewer is treated to glimpses of life in exile, from the young kids wasting hours in clubs and pool halls, to the more determined seekers of justice involved in hunger strikes and political organizing, to the average person just trying to make a living.
For anyone who has traveled the Himalayas or had intimate contact with exile Tibetan communities, the film has a beautiful ring of verisimilitude. This probably has as much to do with the production crew having been raised in such communities and being able to get the details right as it does to the directorial decision to shoot in documentary style, with no redubbing.
For a bunch of amateurs, the quality of the acting is high, though hardly of the award-winning variety. More than once Tenzin Chokyi Gyatso's performance as Karma evoked a wince, but her earnestness created a reserve of sympathy that couldn't be completely undone. By far the best performance is Jampa Kalsang's staid and world-weary exile, Dhondup, whose quest leads to an anguishing discovery.
If you're tired of Hollywood movies, tired of pretentious North American indie films, you'll be delighted by the sincerity of this little film with a big heart from the Land of Snows.