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STUDIO: Oscilloscope Pictures
RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes
Remember that Keanu Reeves movie Little Buddha? Well here’s how that shit really goes down….
Director: Nati Baratz
Starring: Tenzin Zopa, Tenzin Ngodrup, the Dalai Lama
Child is the story of Tenzin Zopa, a young Buddhist monk who embarks on
a journey to find his reincarnated master. Israeli filmmaker Nati
Baratz accompanies him on his quest to give us an unprecedented,
up-close look at the process, all the while inviting us to ponder the truth of it all. If you’re into that sort of thing.
usually like documentaries that engage the audience like a classroom or
college lecture hall, where you have a guide/host/teacher presenting
the information and then a thesis/question for you to ponder.
Unmistaken Child is not like that all. Rather, it’s a purely
observational and objective travelogue that quietly invites the audience to engage the film with their own ideas and questions.
Geshe Lama Konchog, one of the most revered Buddhist masters of
our time (says the film), is cremated as the movie begins. Two years later, his
faithful student of 21 years, Tenzin Zopa, is tasked with finding his
reincarnated soul. The search takes him to Nepal
where he finds Tenzin Ngodrup, a young boy who passes Tenzin Zopa’s
tests with flying colors. He is observed by a group of masters and
finally confirmed by the Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of Geshe Lama
Konchog. And there is much rejoicing.
Nati Baratz is a non-entity in the film itself. His camera is
a fly-on-the-wall for most of the proceedings, only being acknowledged
during brief testimonials from Tenzin Zopa. The camera is given privileged
access to Buddhist ceremonies and customs that a westerner like myself should find fascinating. We witness a summary of the entire process, from Lama Konchog’s funeral to Tenzin Ngodrup’s renaming ceremony
performed by the Dalai Lama himself.
There’s a lot to appreciate here, with the lovely scenery and the
serene mood of the ceremonies, but for a skeptic like myself I couldn’t
help but do a little eye-rolling at several points.
Their methods to find the child were
surprisingly simple, and did little to inspire my confidence in
reincarnation as a whole. Tenzin Zopa
travels around with Lama Konchog’s rosary and gives it to a child. The
child is evaluated depending on how obnoxiously he tries to hold onto
it. This whole idea seemed odd to me, especially compared to my limited understanding of Buddhism. I couldn’t wrap my head around
the soul of a Buddhist master showing itself through the “gimme gimme
MINE MINE” attitude of a child. Subsequent tests included asking the
child to pick which item he likes best from a grouping, the idea being that
if he’s Lama Konchog then he will pick an item that his old body was
familiar with. Never mind the fact that the right answer usually seemed
to be the shiniest.
these misgivings, the relationship that develops between the two is
quite touching. Most people would be wondering if all this malarkey might be harming the child, and if it is right for his parents
to give him up on such a leap of faith. I was certainly wondering
myself. But when I saw them laughing and playing together, the new
student with the new teacher, so full of life and happiness, part of me
was just glad they found each other. What kind of life would this boy have had had he not
been identified as the regenerated Tenzin? Of all the religions to
give the benefit of the doubt, shouldn’t it be buddhism? It’s easy to
let your thoughts on the matter snowball like that while watching the
film. At several times I found it hard to focus on the movie itself;
my mind was wandering among these big questions.
Child did little to make a believer out of me, but I doubt that was the
intention in the first place. It got me thinking. The movie almost
dares you to take this footage and make your own documentary, adding
your own thoughts and insight. I confess that at times I missed the
critical perspective narration of someone like Werner Herzog, and ended
my viewing a little disappointed in the film. Then I was left with my
own thoughts, and could not get the movie out of my head.
really wish this looked better. I can’t vouch for the source material,
but I seriously doubt it was HD. It looks like a lower-end digital
video quality, which is a real shame considering the beautiful imagery
on display. It should look fine on computers and smaller TVs, but an
HD set like my own will make it look frustratingly flawed.
The only special disc feature is 8 additional scenes, full of extra
material cut for time, I assume. Some are relevant to the quest, some
are just snippets of Tenzin Zopa’s life as a monk, but it’s all
interesting. Included in the foldout DVD packaging is a wonderful
essay on reincarnation by Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman, professor at
Columbia University and president of Tibet House U.S.