Eye For Film >> Movies >> Kundun (1997) Film Review
Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray
When you know that Harrison Ford flew to India to read the script to the Dalai Lama, while his wife, Melissa Mathison, took notes, you get the feeling that this is the next salvo in the Tibetan war of propaganda. The film suffers from the Bertolucci blues. When making The Last Emperor, Bernardo had a prob. What to do with the kid in the Forbidden City. Same here. Once the reincarnated DL has been chosen, the boy is whipped away from mum and dad and educated in the ways of Lamahood, with all those wondrous robes and exquisite headgear, as well as older guys being deferential.
The history of modern Tibet is worse than depicted here. What the Chinese have done makes the pioneers' behavior toward native Americans almost benign. If Martin Scorsese had a free hand, he might have turned Lhasa into an Asian replica of Little Italy. The destruction of the monasteries is hardly mentioned, although Mao tells the 23-year-old Dalai, "Your people have been poisoned by religion." Rivers have been poisoned by industrial waste. They recover.
This is the story of the present DL's early life. Taken from home at a tiny age, he is reinvented in an exclusively male environment and trained to be the spiritual and everything-else leader of the nation. He is taught wisdom. That means no fun, no pals his own age, no girls. He becomes a quiet and sensitive listener.
The real drama is China's repressive colonisation and whether His young Holiness should get out ("If they kill you, they kill Tibet") before the Chairman finishes the job. Scorsese has only limited access to blood 'n' guts, not having the money to make an epic, which forces him indoors.
The film looks terrific, with Morocco standing in for the homeland. The acting by an essentially amateur cast is impressive, although Tibetans speaking pidgin American does not sound right. Mathison's deep concern to honour the project with perfect truth lacks objectivity. Also, the use of dream sequences looks like desperation. What's Marty doing here? At least, he had the nous not to call Bobby to play the Lord Chamberlain.Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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