Dir.: Jean-Paul Mertinez; Documentary with Tenzin Gyatso the 14th Dalai Lama, Har Mander Singh, Rani Singh, Nithin Coca, Leslie Dirusso, Dr Lobsang Sangay, Rinchen Khandro Choegyal narrated by Hugh Bonneville; UK 2022, 94 min.
This fulsome portrait of the 14th Dalai Lama, narrated by Hugh Bonneville, is anything but untold and brings nothing new to the table. And what’s more the editing is sloppy, jumping from one interviewee to the next in a scattergun approach that will nonetheless provide cinematic catnip for the luminary’s devoted followers.
The film opens with an introduction of sorts to the Dalai Lama (*1935), Leslie Dirusso. This includes a “Limited Edition of the Heinrich Harrar Collecton” of photos of the young Dalai Lama in Lhasa, shot in the late 1930, and developed decades later. The spiritual leader’s brother and sister-in-law talk about their admiration for the spiritual leader, and journalist Nithin Coca reiterates the regional threat from the current Chinese government inherent in their water dam policy of which has led to droughts in India, Thailand and Bangladesh. Dr. Lobsang Sangay, president of the Central Administration of Tibet, talk at length about China’s current discrimination towards the nation. To prevent Tibetans from emigrating to India, the Chinese government tries to control the population in a digital way, using drones and tracking devices.
Rinchen Khandro Choegyal, founding director of the Tibetan Nuns project, explains how those subjected to rape and torture in Chinese prisons have been offered a brighter future. Today women have the same access to education as men, and equal opportunities in the professions. Before women were restricted to cooking and cleaning.
The highlight is the meeting between His Holiness and Har Mander Singh, an Indian officer who helped to save the Dalai Lama’s life, guiding him in his 1959 escape from the Chinese soldiers who were guarding him. Singh led a small team, over snowy mountains and glaciers to South India. He died in 2020.
Singh’s daughter Rani, a journalist, is given the privilege of an one-to-one interview with the Dalai Lama who surprisingly admits to mulling over the idea of joining the Chinese Communist Party when he befriended chairman Mao. He was talked out of it by a friend, who told him to wait. In 1950, China invaded Tibet.
The Dalai Lama is today a near-mythical personality, an ‘influencer’ who focuses his attention on the younger generation encouraging them to fight for a more equal world, and save the planet from extinction. Compassion is his watch word. AS
ON RELEASE FROM 30 MARCH 2023