Saturday, December 29, 2012

"Brilliant Moon": Film Review

Narrated by Richard Gere, this documentary calmly relates the long life (1910-1991) of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, who fled Tibet for Bhutan. There, he taught the present Dalai Lama as well as Dzongsar Khyentse (aka the film director Khyentse Norbu), and Matthieu Ricard, who has served as a translator and exponent of Vajrayana Buddhism to the West from this same Himalayan kingdom. It's a very straightforward presentation, just under an hour.

I watched wondering about what motivates the appeal, expressed by all fervently in their on-camera testimony, of one said to be "perfect" and enlightened, who chooses to leave a life of potential retreat (and a family he later fathered if kept by a devout patriarch at seemingly somewhat of a distance) to sit before others and watch them pay him homage, as the transmitter of wisdom. During this hour, his dharma teachings remained simply expressed, if difficult to master. The tone of this film, reverent and in awe, is not be gainsayed, but it's more a respectful hagiography than a critical exploration of a Tibetan exemplar's evidently wide appeal and lasting impact.

Therefore, it may please those already committed to his influence, rather than convince those curious. I'd recommend Matthieu Ricard's 1998 film (reviewed by me Dec. 2012), "The Spirit of Tibet," which uses some of the same archival footage from the Rinpoche's 1985 visit and that of his cremation and reincarnation, but which conveys a deeper sense of the "spiritual energy" of the teacher, as the Dalai Lama sums it up, as well as the "boundless compassion" for all, enemies and friends, as the "dzogchen" message.

As with his audiobook reading (reviewed by me Oct. 2008) for "The Tibetan Book of the Dead," Richard Gere provides an assured narration. Lou Reed, by the way, is featured in credits, but from my ear, it seems he speaks only a couple of voiceovers for past Tibetan masters who testify to the Rinpoche's love and compassion. The soundtrack, none of it credited to Reed, remains a tasteful blend of East-West world music that stands for the meeting of cultures epitomized.

What stands out most: Branko Teslic's animation team. The guru's early years unfold in a folk-style Tibetan series of imagery that moves gently, as if a graphic novel's soft, pastel tones come to life. This drew me in most, and showed how a thoughtful application of technology can enhance a film's content. As I said, it's a very respectful homage to a teacher, but the secret of his pull over so many may remain, perhaps suitably if elusively on camera or in a script, subtle for those coming to this film without already being captivated by its subject. (Amazon US 12-13-12)


Maelstrom said...

Have you seen the Dharma River documentary series about sacred Buddhist sites in SE Asia? Also a mixed bag, but worth seeing.

Fionnchú said...

I appreciate the recommendation, Maelstrom...