Thursday, July 14, 2005

Travellers and Magicians (2005)

A movie of two tales: On one hand, we have the main story (code name: "Travellers"), which is about a guy who finds his tiny mountain town in Bhutan too provincial and has a chance to leave for America, and on the other hand we have the story-within-the-story (code name: "Magicians"), which is about a guy who drinks some psychedelic wine and finds himself trapped in a forest cottage with an old guy and his wife. The main body of the film (the "Travellers" thread) is one of those films that critics are expected to go gaga over just because it's from a different culture (i.e. director Khyentse Norbu's previous The Cup). So we pat it on the head and praise its exoticism and travelogue-shallow peek into a different culture, thus assuaging our liberal guilt about not knowing a damn thing about Bhutan, all the while conveniently ignoring the fact that the plot and the characters and the emotional arc, had we seen it in an American film, would be pilloried as hopelessly cliched (it's about a guy who Learns to Appreciate What He Has). And it would be easy to hate this film... were it not for the side story. It's intended as an illustrative parable as told by a Buddhist monk (it's also, essentially, about a guy who Learns to Appreciate What He Has), but it's in this thread that the film begins to truly feel exotic and mystical -- it has a mythical, fairy-tale quality to it that cuts through the dull neorealism of the main plot. In this story, one gets echoes of Kwaidan and the Grimm Brothers and Double Indemnity all at once, polished to a ravishing, saturated sheen. It's an inexorably gorgeous tale, all the more so for its simplicity. The presence of this thread also just makes the main business seem that much more prosaic and useless. It's not a film worth recommending, but if you must see it, check it out on video and fast-forward through all the real-world bits.

Grade: C+


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