Unlike this year's earlier Tibetan-themed biopic, SEVEN YEARS IN TIBET, Martin Scorsese's quietly devastating film really is about the Dalai Lama. It is, in fact, more an intimate film than an epic, although it occasionally rises to
that heroic level. The film sets itself a straightforward task: to tell the life story of Tenzin Gyatso from the moment he was recognized as the 14th incarnation of the Dalai Lama until his exile to India in 1959. At various key intervals -- we see him at ages 2 (played by Tenzin Yeshi Paichang),
5 (Tulku Jamyang Kunga Tenzin) and 12 (Gyurme Tethong), and finally as a young adult (Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong) -- the upheavals that result when isolated Tibet's centuries-old culture and religion come into contact with the 20th century, and the tiny nation's brutal oppression by belligerent
neighbor China. The young Dalai Lama's dilemma -- how does a nonviolent religious leader confront an aggressor as ruthless as Chairman Mao (Robert Lin)'s China? -- isn't inherently dramatic in any conventional sense of that term. But while neither screenwriter Melissa Matheson nor the director
chooses to make the Dalai Lama's story particularly easy for modern Western audiences to grasp, Thelma Schoonmaker's skillful editing and Philip Glass's mesmerizing score help give the story a surprisingly kinetic rhythm. Vigorously directed, sensual and hypnotic, Scorsese's film is a visually
extraordinary meditation on ritual, nature and humanity.
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