Travellers and Magicians

Wednesday night I went with my friend Nathan to see Khyentse Norbu’s Travellers and Magicians, a film I first read about in a article. I learned there of a film made by a holy man and was very intrigued by this.

Check out the new film, Travellers and Magicians, by Khyentse Norbu a film director and writer — and holy man from Bhutan. It’s not often you get these two professions together, but he’s the real deal: they call him a Rinpoche or “Precious One”, the third incarnation of a 19th century nonsectarian saint and scholar.
The film takes place in the director’s home country, the beautiful Kingdom of Bhutan, a tiny Himalayan country, and in my view, one of the more interesting places around. Experts in this area tell me that Bhutan feels like Nepal 30 years ago with all of the symbolic and religious allure of Tibet. So not surprisingly, this Buddhist theocracy is trying to learn from their neighbor’s experience (especially the negative ones) and have decided to open their country slowly to the effects of globalization. They just got TV, for instance. They are also developing and testing new measures like Gross Domestic Happiness. All very cool, welcome and potentially important experimentation if you ask me.

I went into the film with high expectations and curiosity. I was surprised but not disappointed in the least.

Travellers and Magicians is a Bhutanese film exploring “the bitter and the sweet of temporary things,” emphasizing the need to forego momentary pleasure for greater reward in the future. There were two theme-related narratives woven well to form the movie. The main plot focused on a young Butanese man who longed to move to America, his dreamland, and was undertaking a journey to make that possible. The second story was a beautiful fable told in segments by a monk who travelled with the America-bound man.
Bhutan is a beautiful and remote nation (until the 1960’s Bhutan had no currency, roads, electricity, phones, schools, hospitals, postal services or western visitors) and this is displayed clearly in this work. Rural roads, small villages and vast expanses of prestine, gorgeous landscapes showcase a land of simple pleasures that one can’t help but long for. I’d gladly take Bhutan’s beautiful landscape over dreamland-America.
The fable showcased an amazing natural splendor, unspoiled land as far as the eye could see, and the beauty of each aspect of it was striking. The colors and overall look of the fable segment were heightened in a very effective way, giving it the appearance of the vibrancy our imaginations can conjure up under the guidance of a master storyteller’s words.

The film was steeped in a sense of cultural difference that perhaps most of us in the west do not grasp well. The humour was often subtle, but I enjoyed it very much. A lot of it carried what I’ve come to expect from Buddhist humour, a playfulness aimed to instruct and disrupt discontent. Also, the pacing was slower than what most of us expect in films. This was noticible but not detrimental in my opinion. The easy pace seemed a natural fit with all elements of the film, especially highlighting the protagonist’s frustration at possibly being late for an appointment that could lead to his departure for America.
Overall, the film was excellent. There were some moments where the production was noticibly not up to Hollywood standards, but these were few and more quint than distracting. Do yourself a favour and see it in theatres if you have the chance, as it’s an enchanting, well made and enriching film with a wonderful sentiment.

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