Spectacularly located in the kingdom of Bhutan, this appealing sophomore feature from the director of 1999’s “The Cup” has every chance of niche arthouse success and ancillary action. Although writer-director Khientse Norbu breaks no ground in unfolding two parallel stories about young men seeking fresh horizons, he creates believable characters — and has the great benefit of living in a country that provides seldom-seen locations at the top of the world.
Main story deals with the ambitions of Dondup (Tshewang Dendup), who, though he’s been working only a short time as an official in a tiny mountain village, is already bored (there are no cinemas or restaurants) and wants to move on. When a friend based in America writes to him promising help in obtaining a visa, Dondup drops everything to head for the U.S., but a number of minor delays means he misses the bus that would take him to the airport at Thimpu, the tiny nation’s capital.
Forced to hitchhike, lugging his suitcase and boom box, Dondup meets a number of other travelers on the mountain road, among them an elderly seller of apples (Ap Dochu), a cheerful monk (Sonam Kinga) and an old man (Dasho Adab Sangye) traveling with his beautiful teenage daughter (Sonam Lhamo).
Dwarfed by towering snowcapped mountains, the travelers find traffic on the road is sparse, and the journey turns into days, with Dondup gradually drawn closer to the lovely, naive girl to the point that his trip to America assumes less urgency.
To while away the time, the monk tells a story he pointedly suggests might contain a lesson for restless Dondup. It involves Tashi (Lhakpa Dorji), a bored young man who mounts a strange horse that bolts off, taking him far away. Lost deep in the mountains, he stumbles on the isolated home of an old man (Gomchen Penjore) and his younger wife, Deki (Deki Yangzom). Before long, Tashi and Deki are having a secret affair, and, like characters in a James M. Cain story, plot to murder her husband. The film’s message is essentially to be content with what you’ve got. In a less easy-to-swallow package, it might be less palatable.
The acting, by a cast of first-timers, is natural and unaffected, with Dendup especially appealing as a young man eager to seek new horizons far from his homeland.
Pic has been adeptly packaged, with every advantage taken to show off the spectacular locations through which the travelers journey. Post-production was carried out in Australia and New Zealand, with pristine results. The music and songs are an attractive addition to a minor but very easy-to-take road movie.