Review: ‘What Remains of Us’

A young woman of Tibetan origin, Kalsang Dolma, travels around the land of her fathers showing ordinary people a filmed message from the Dalai Lama preaching non-violence in passionate, sobering docu. Doc and human rights festivals will be natural homes for this exile-centered work.

A young woman of Tibetan origin, Kalsang Dolma, travels around the land of her fathers showing ordinary people a filmed message from the Dalai Lama preaching non-violence in the passionate, sobering docu “What Remains of Us.” Co-helmed by Francois Prevost and Hugo Latulippe (latter made doc “Bacon: The Film”), pic collects a full spectrum of positions from locals — from peaceful, Buddhist resignation through to more active resistance — to forge a forcefully polemical indictment of Chinese repression in what’s sometimes called the biggest prison in the world. Doc and human rights festivals will be natural homes for this exile-centered work.

Stylistically, pic plays it straight, using classic documentary participant-observer format. An opening voiceover from narrator Dolma explains her background and mission, as she looks out the window of her Lhasa-bound plane at the breathtaking Himalayas. Born in exile to Tibetan parents, but raised largely in India and Quebec, Dolma arrives in her homeland for the first time as the viewers’ and filmmakers’ guide.

Equipped with a portable DVD viewer, Dolma visits a wide variety of Tibetans to show them a message from the Dalai Lama, shot by helmers before docu was even conceived and the inspiration for the whole project. Tibet’s spiritual leader in exile tells his people to adhere to the philosophy of non-violence and continue to have hope, pointing out that things are changing in China and that the nation has many supporters beyond its borders.

As little groups of Tibetans (none named onscreen) crowd round the viewer to watch, the camera watches them back respectfully. Afterward, Dolma interviews them about their thoughts and reactions. Nuns and monks appear not unexpectedly to feel something approaching religious ecstasy after their mini-screening, while some secular viewers, though respectful of the Dalai Lama himself, speak of resistance and feelings of despair. Many cry while watching the film, and even a gaggle of Lhasa streetgirls, deeply ignorant of their country’s own history, clasp their hands in prayer while viewing.

Dolma also visits at the United Nations to sift through the records on Tibet. Archive footage shows Tibetans fleeing down hillsides when the country was invaded in 1950, Chinese soldiers violently attacking monks, and the student facing off a tank in Tianemen Square.

Helmer Prevost, a practicing doctor as well as a filmmaker, and the more filmmaking experienced Latulippe (who also made docu “Voyage to the North of the World” about painter Real Berard) toiled over this project for eight years, and, although film looks as if it’s all constructed from a single journey, according to press information was actually shot over four separate trips to Tibet with Dolma. Editing seamlessly coheres episodic story.

Lensing is fine for digi-shot work, but nothing special given that this is a landscape as photogenic as they come. Prospects for distribution could be improved with transfer to film.

What Remains of Us

Canada

Production

A Nomadik Films, National Film Board of Canada production. (International sales: National Film Board of Canada, Quebec.) Produced by Francois Prevost, Yves Bisaillon. Directed by Francois Prevost, Hugo Latulippe. Screenplay, Kalsang Dolma, Prevost, Latulippe.

Crew

Camera (color, Digi-Beta projection), Prevost, Latulippe; editor, Annie Jean; music, Techung Yunchen Lhamo, Kalsang Dolma, Jamyang; sound (Dolby Surround), Prevost, Latulippe. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Critics Week, special screening), May 16, 2004. (Also in Hot Docs Film Festival.) Running time: 76 MIN.

With

Kalsang Dolma, the Dalai Lama. (French, Tibetan, English dialogue)
Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 0

Leave a Reply

No Comments

Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

More Film News from Variety

Loading