'Guru. Bhagwan, His Secretary & His

Expulsion from utopia is never pleasant, but as Sabine Gisiger and Beat Haener show in "Guru. Bhagwan, His Secretary & His Bodyguard," it takes a certain type to believe utopias are even possible.

Expulsion from utopia is never pleasant, but as Sabine Gisiger and Beat Haener show in “Guru. Bhagwan, His Secretary & His Bodyguard,” it takes a certain type to believe utopias are even possible. During that ill-defined period when Flower Power nose-dived and New Age spirituality took flight — anyone remember “est”? — Bhagwan Rajneesh inspired devotees primed for his call to free love and communal living. Idealism was followed by dissension, greed and corruption, here recounted in fascinating detail by the Bhagwan’s two closest associates. Swiss theatrical has been solid, but TV and ancillary should go global.

The Bhagwan — meaning “blessed” — began gathering acolytes, called neo-sannyasins, in the early 1970s, forming an ashram in Pune that drew international followers electrified by his preachings on self-realization. Hugh Milne came from Scotland, Sheela Birnstiel from India via the U.S. — he became Rajneesh’s bodyguard, she his secretary. From Pune, the commune moved to Oregon, where the Bhagwan’s increasing isolation (and love of Rolls-Royces), along with Birnstiel’s autocratic style, created spiritual and legal nightmares. The guru himself remains a cipher, but Milne, a genuine seeker, and Birnstiel, possibly delusional, are riveting. Tech credits are faultless.

Guru. Bhagwan, His Secretary & His Bodyguard

Switzerland

Production

A Filmcoopi Zurich release of a Das Kollektiv Fuer Audiovisuelle Werke production. Produced by Philip Delaquis, Min Li Marti, Stefan Zuber. Co-producer, Urs Augstburger. Directed, written by Sabine Gisiger, Beat Haener.

Crew

Camera (color), Haener, Matthias Kaelin; editor, Barbara Weber; music, Marcel Vaid, Raphelson; sound (Dolby Digital), Saul Rouda, Martin Witz, Roman Bergamin. Reviewed at Locarno Film Festival (Appellations Suisse), Aug. 13, 2010. Running time: 98 MIN.

With

Sheela Birnstiel, Hugh Milne.
(English dialogue)

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