Fact-packed pic, which recently opened in New York, is no great shakes to look at, but its subject is both timely and unusual. Swiss docu seeks out material that's almost unknown in the West, and confirms its value with Western analysis. Helmer Franz Reichler is maximizing the pic's impact with tie-in book and CD-ROM, so "The Knowledge of Healing" appears ready for a long ride on the alternative trail.

Fact-packed pic, which recently opened in New York, is no great shakes to look at, but its subject is both timely and unusual. Swiss docu seeks out material that’s almost unknown in the West, and confirms its value with Western analysis. Helmer Franz Reichler is maximizing the pic’s impact with tie-in book and CD-ROM, so “The Knowledge of Healing” appears ready for a long ride on the alternative trail. All that’s missing is an infomercial from Richard Gere.

Traveling to northern India, eastern Siberia, central Europe and Israel, Reichler talks to experts and witnesses — both famous and obscure — about properties of Tibetan medicine, from philosophical, religious and everyday-health perspectives. The big score here is the Dalai Lama himself, but we spend more time with his doctor; the great man has a cold and we’re privy to the treatment. The robed doc also handles an elderly nun with various ailments and, in the pic’s most disturbing sequence, a much younger one with neurological damage she received at the hands of Chinese prison guards who beat and raped her. Here, the physician can do little but weep.

Docu isn’t agitprop, however. While helmer makes clear that much Tibetan wisdom, including medicinal charts and records, were destroyed by Red Army troops, pic spends far more time detailing the spread of gyuschi, or knowledge of healing, to distant climes. Particularly interesting is the extent to which Mongolian and Russian doctors have absorbed, or at least accommodated, Tibetan techniques in the hinterlands (such as the rarely seen region of Buryata). Likewise, the medicines — herbs, salves and metallic “jewel” pills — are taken seriously by Western research scientists, who are seen dissecting their properties. The conclusion is that they work, even by cold, statistical standards, and that they work best in tandem with allopathic methods. One compelling assertion is that these exotic compotes hold a key to cancer treatments, since they appear to promote physical acceptance of intrusive surgery and chemotherapy.

Tech values are minimal, with grainy, underlit footage matched by murky sound and rough cutting. It hardly matters, given the tightly crammed and provocative content, and it’s guaranteed that this “Healing” manual will be prized by specialized groups looking for non-mainstream answers.

Knowledge of Healing

Swiss

Production

A T&C Film Ag production, in association with Schweizer Fernsehen DRS/Kulturfonds Suissimage/Teleclub. (International sales: T&C Edition Ag, Zurich/In Pictures Ltd., New York.) Produced by Marcel Hoehn. Executive producer, Paul Riniker. Directed, written by Franz Reichler.

Crew

Camera (color), Pio Corradi; editor, Myriam Flury, Reichler; sound, Dieter Meyer. Reviewed at Vancouver Film Festival, Sept. 28, 1997. (Also in Palm Springs Film Festival.) Running time: 89 min.

With

Dr. Tenzin Gyatso (The XIV Dalai Lama of Tibet), Dr. Alfred Hassig, Dr. Isaac Ginsburg, Dr. Tenzin Choedrak, Dr. Alexander P. Nechunayev.
(Tibetan, Russian, German, Buryatian, English and Swiss-dialect dialogue.)
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