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The two men embark on parallel, if separate, journeys. Their yearning is a common one--for a better and different life. Dondup, delayed by the timeless pace of his village, is forced to hitchhike through the beautiful wild countryside of Bhutan to reach his goal. He shares the road with a monk, an apple seller, a papermaker and his beautiful young daughter, Sonam. Throughout the journey, the perceptive yet mischievous monk relates the story of Tashi. It is a mystical fable of lust, jealousy and murder, that holds up a mirror to the restless Dondup, and his blossoming attraction to the innocent Sonam. The cataclysmic conclusion of the monk's tale leaves Dondup with a dilemma--is the grass truly greener on the other side? Written by
Sujit R. Varma
The second film from Buddhist director Khyentse Norbu (his first film is 1999's "The Cup", "Travellers & Magicians" is a beautiful, funny, spiritual and understated piece of cinema. The film involves two stories about two men, both on very similar journeys in very different worlds, with two very different outcomes.
Dondup (Tshewang Dendup) is an important chief officer in a remote village in the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan, but soon realizes that he can not stay there his whole life and longs to travel to his dreamland called America. He would rather see himself picking apples in the U.S. than live a mundane life in his village. And so he begins his journey, hitchhiking his way closer to his dreamland. On the way he meets a feisty monk (played by a funny Sonam Kinga), an old apple seller, and a paper maker & his young daughter Sonam, whom Dondup slowly begins to grow an attraction for.
During the journey, the monk tells Dondup and the group an old fable that parallel's Dondup's journey and quest for a better, more exciting life. The film then inter-cuts back and forth from Dondup's story to Tashi's story. Tashi (played by the charismatic Lhakpa Dorji) is a restless farm boy studying magic, who dreams of one day leaving his boring village. While having lunch with his younger brother, he unexpectedly embarks on a journey of his own where he meets an old recluse named Agay (Gomchen Penjore) and his beautiful, and much younger, wife Deki (Deki Yangzom). Soon, Tashi falls in love with Deki and soon they begin a secret affair. Here, the film turns almost noirish.
As the monk concludes Tashi's fable, Dondup is left with a dilemma is the grass truly greener on the other side?
This film was the first feature to be made in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan and was shot entirely in the Dzongkha dialect, which is the official language of Bhutan. Because few of the cast spoke this new language, most had to be taught by a dialect coach on-set. The cast does a terrific job and the performances are all excellent...all very natural. The standouts in the film are Tshewang Dendup and Lahakpa Dorji, the two protagonists. Though they go on similar journeys, both exemplify different personalities and both actors successfully establish their characters as human...likable yet flawed. My only complaint is that both their characters don't fully come to a full arc, more so for Dondup's character. Though i'm sure Norbu intended the audience to make their own conclusion to Dondup's journey of discovery. I think maybe Norbu created such great, dynamic characters, I didn't want their stories to end. I wanted to continue riding along on their journeys, curious to see what happens next.
The cinematography is stunning and Alan Kozlowski does a wonderful job at contrasting the different looks of Dondup's story and Tashi's cautionary tale. Dondup's world is a natural canvas that showcases the beautiful scenery of the Bhutan landscape. Tashi's world is darker and mystical, shot with dark blues and greens and soft lighting. The final scene at the creek of Tashi's story is absolutely breathtaking.
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