Milarepa unveils Buddhist fairy tale landscape

CanWest News Service
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Computer-generated special effects and 11th century Buddhist legend mingle with surprisingly subtle results in Milarepa, a well-crafted and well-intentioned yarn that reads like a European fairytale - but is all Bhutanese.

Computer-generated special effects and 11th century Buddhist legend mingle with surprisingly subtle results in Milarepa, a well-crafted and well-intentioned yarn that reads like a European fairytale - but is all Bhutanese. Directed by monk-turned-director Neten Chokling, the story opens with the introduction of Thopaga, the son of a wealthy land owner and well-respected member of the community. When Thopagas father dies, the surviving members of the family are reduced to servant status. The only thing Thopagas mother has left is a small parcel of farmland on which to grow barley, yet feeling she and her son have no future, she sells the land and hands him the proceeds on one condition: He venture far away from home and become a sorcerer so that one day, he can return and avenge his familys name. For anyone familiar with Tibetan folklore, or the Buddhist canon, the story of Milarepa is a particularly important cautionary tale because it addresses the issue of great power, and great responsibility. It also echoes a familiar chorus about being careful for what you wish for. Thopaga follows his mothers advice and fulfills her dream of becoming a powerful magician, but the results arent quite what they imagined because for every act, there are consequences no one can predict. In the hands of a bona fide spirit guide like Chokling, the material never feels stiff or contrived. The narrative flows quite loosely. Characters seem to weave in and out of each others lives, allowing the larger moral questions to emerge somewhat naturally as life experience chisels away at the characters respective cores. Watching Thopaga shed his old identity to become Milarepa - one of the foremost figures in Buddhist thought - is the central metamorphosis and provides Chokling with a strong lattice upon which he can drape his scenes, which is a good thing, because the movie often feels a little too formless and a little too ethereal for those expecting western film convention. Chokling uses the effects sparingly, but with great success, ensuring the heart of the story is never distorted by superhuman feats. An exotic encounter that never panders to the lowest western denominator, Milarepa isnt everyones cup of tea, but those willing to explore a different kind of narrative terrain will find plenty of well-steeped material to sip on. Rating: Three stars out of five

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