The Tibetans refer to the Dalai Lama as 'Kundun', which means 'The Presence'. He was forced to escape from his native home, Tibet, when communist China invaded and enforced an oppressive regime upon the peaceful nation of Tibet. The Dalai Lama escaped to India in 1959 and has been living in exile in Dharamsala ever since. Written by
Tibet. The young boy who shall become the 14th Dailai Lama is discovered and trained. At an early age he has to deal with his country's invasion by the Chinese and is ultimately forced into exile.
Those expecting a Martin Scorsese film will be disappointed. This is not his typical kind of story and - fittingly - neither does it bear his typical direction. Using a cast of non-actors for the most part and opting for a more artful photographic style (kudos to DP Roger Deakins, veteran Coen collaborator, for his mesmerizing work here), Scorsese gives a truly spiritual film revolving around one of History's great tragedies. It is a feast of sights and sounds that succeeds in making Tibet alluring and makes for even more of a heartbreak for the viewer when this country is violated and destroyed. Perhaps as important as any other collaboration - if not more so - is the score by Philip Glass providing unusual but haunting melodies and depth.
Kundun is regarded by many as a misstep. It does wander a long way from the gangster territory and the familiar NYC surroundings Scorsese usually plays with. In truth, that such a comfortable veteran director might take such an artistic and financial risk is both surprising and inspiring. This will never gain the popularity of "Raging Bull" or "Goodfellas", because it speaks of a world that disappeared. Nevertheless, it might just be, with "Last Temptation of Christ", Scorsese's deepest and most important film.
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