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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Kundun

Starring: Tenzin Thothob Tsarong, Gyurme Tethong
Director: Martin Scorsese
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 134 Minutes
Release Date: December 1997
Genre: Drama

Review by AlexI
3½ stars out of 4

"I think that I am a reflection of the moon in the water. When you see me, and I am trying to be a good man, you see yourself". - The 14th Dalai Lama, "Kundun"

The sons of Genghis Khan gave the Dalai Lama his name. It means "Ocean of Wisdom". In a wartorn Asia, Tibetans have practiced non-violence for over a thousand years. The Dalai Lama is their ruler. He is the human manifestation of the Buddha of Compassion.

In 1933 the 13th Dalai Lama died. Four years later, a holy man, disguised as a servant, found himself in a far corner of Tibet. He was searching for the 14th Dalai Lama. His search was almost at an end.

A Buddha had been reborn.

Undoubtedly one of the greatest achievements of the year, 'Kundun' is a rare cinematic experience, that intoxicates you with its majestic poetry, beauty and spiritual symbolism. It is also the most unexpected, coming from a director whose style and history makes him the last possible choice ( with the exception of directors such as nJames Cameron and Roland Emerich) for a picture such as this. The director is Martin Scorsese. Yes, the same Martin Scorsese that gave you 'Raging Bull', 'Taxi Driver' , 'Goodfellas' and 'Casino' . Believe me, there is nothing in his latest picture that suggests that you're watching 'A Martin Scorsese Film', with the exception of the incredible talent that he has with storytelling.

``Kundun'' is structured as the life of the 14th Dalai Lama, but he is simply a vessel for a larger life or spirit, continuing through centuries. That is the film's strength, and its curse. It provides a deep spirituality, but denies the Dalai Lama humanity; he is permitted certain little human touches, but is essentially an icon, not a man. His human needs are therefore completely overseen by his advisors and teachers. The sudden transition from being a child to becoming the spiritual ruler of Tibet, does have a terrible price. The tragedy is of course the complete alienation from the world that this little boy knew, from his parents and friends. The loss of childhood and humanity comes simultaneously with the demand of the impossible from a child: wisdom, rightisnous, commitment and purity of soul. The Chinese have invaded Tibet. Kundun, frightened and confused, asks his advisors in disappear: ``What can I do? I'm only a boy.'' His advisers say, ``You have chosen to be born again. You must know what to do.'' Unlike Scorsese's portrait of Jesus in ``The Last Temptation of Christ,'' this is not a man striving for perfection, but perfection in the shape of a man. The film is made of episodes, not a plot. It is like illustrations bound into the book of a life. Most of the actors are real Tibetan Buddhists, and their serenity in many scenes casts a spell.

There is a world somewhere that doesn't base itself on war, where technology does not exist. Where people live in total harmony with nature that surrounds them. Majestic mountains, that shine like gigantic diamonds in the sunlight, cast silver sparkles into the waters that are as clear as the mountain-air. A castle of colors and light can be seen in the horizon. Indeed the production designer Dante Feretti ('Dracula', "Interview With The Vampire") has created a world of mystique and color that is more magical than any fairytale. His set and costume design proves invaluable, providing the unformed clay that the cinematographer Roger Deakins ('Fargo') moulds with light and shade, adding life and emotion to Feretti's mystical structures. It's exceptionally beautiful, almost hypnotizing -- a swirl of sound and illumination. Philip Glass' score, composed using native Tibetan instrumentation, enhances the rarefied atmosphere. Glass's familiar compositional techniques are wedded on Kundun to a sensitive use of ethnic instruments and the voices of the Gyuto Monks, adding an aura of spiritual power missing from most Hollywood fare. The incredible blend of technical and visual achievements form a collection of magical images of pure artistic wizardry that will hold you under Scorsese's spell for these 2 hours .

Scorsese's picture is not a film that debates about the dogmas of Buddhism, nor does it concentrate on the battle between religion and politics. But it does clearly depict how the control of the totalitarian system kills all hope, magic and individuality. It does also portray the contrast between the ancient world and the 'progressive' society, clearly symbolized by the silent battle between heavenly colors of light and the void of darkness. Is it possible to survive without conflicts and war, and uphold the ancient traditions in our rapidly changing world? Most of all it is a spiritual journey. Scorsese opens the door to a world beyond our reach and comprehension. A way of life so different from ours that it gives us the opportunity to meditate over our western life style and society. It is simply one of the most magical, rare films that have entered the silver screen for some time.

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