×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Kathmandu Lullaby

An idealistic young teacher heads to a poverty-stricken area of the Himalayas to change the world in "Kathmandu Lullaby," a film that shares its protag's good intentions but ticks off too many predictable boxes.

With:
With: Veronica Echegui, Saumyata Bhattarai, Norbu Tsering Gurung. (Spanish, English dialogue)

An idealistic young teacher heads to a poverty-stricken area of the Himalayas to change the world in “Kathmandu Lullaby,” a film that shares its protag’s good intentions but ticks off too many predictable boxes. Brimming with the social concern that defines helmer Iciar Bollain’s work, the script nevertheless fails to transform that passion into stimulating drama, repping a misstep for Bollain and her co-writer Paul Laverty, a longtime Ken Loach-collaborator. Even so, the helmer’s international reputation, enhanced by her previous pic, “Even the Rain,” should still generate fest screenings and offshore arthouse play.

Pic is loosely based on a true story. Laia (Veronica Echegui) is a volunteer at a school in Kathmandu, where education is basically a matter of dull repetition and corporal punishment. Driven by a desire to improve the kids’ lives, Laia wants to set up a special class where she’s in charge of the teaching, but she’s hampered at every turn by cultural differences, the caste system, bureaucratic obstacles and corruption. Most of what Laia learns comes via her co-teacher and friend Sharmila (Saumyata Bhattarai).

Laia’s visa expires, and in order to stay, she marries local man Tshiring (Norbu Tsering Gurung), who’s a little more forward-thinking than some of his countrymen, although the edgy early scenes between them are nicely downbeat. Laia’s frustrations continue to pile up as one of the school’s star pupils is sold by her parents into prostitution in India, but ever defiant, the determined do-gooder decides to set up her own school.

As a docu-style exploration of injustices in one of the world’s poorest regions, “Kathmandu Lullaby” reps a decent primer. The questions it raises about how and what to teach kids are even more interesting, especially given the script’s implication that, not only in Kathmandu but in most Third World countries, education means keeping children as ignorant as possible about the things that matter.

All of which is fine, but rarely does the film catch fire as drama. Although Nepal is thankfully not presented as an “Eat Pray Love”-style backdrop to Laia’s personal journey, there’s something plodding and dutiful about the way the story proceeds from one catastrophe to another, while the Nepali characters are not given enough agency.

Echegui, a thesp who has yet to put a foot wrong, is up to scratch in a physically and emotionally draining role. But despite her best efforts, she cannot carry the weight alone, and the kind of complex central relationships that have driven Bollain’s best work are absent here; sparks fail to ignite between Laia and the ever-hesitant, quietly-spoken Tshiring, and the local thesps, mostly non-pros, sometimes feel underdirected. Inelegantly woven-in flashbacks reveal how Laia’s own unhappy upbringing in a religious school fueled her zeal for reform, though the skillful Echegui would have been more than capable of hinting at her character’s psychological issues without such explicit foregrounding.

Lenser Antonio Riestra lets the clear mountain light bring out a full range of startling color, and the endlessly fascinating street scenes are beautifully done, although the grim depictions of Kathmandu slum life are unlikely to impress the Nepalese tourist board. One breathtaking sequence, in which Laia and Tshiring visit Tshiring’s parents in their remote mountain village, reps the pic’s only concession to National Geographic-level imagery.

As often happens when Spanish thesps speak English, Echegui’s delivery is sometimes inappropriately stressed, so the dialogue may strike English-speaking auds as unnatural.

Popular on Variety

Kathmandu Lullaby

Spain

Production: An Alta Classics release of a Media Films, Es.docu production in association with TVE, TV3, Canal Plus. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Luis de Val, Larry Levene. Executive producers, Miguel Antonio Perez, Julio Piedra. Directed by Iciar Bollain. Screenplay, Bollain, Paul Laverty.

Crew: Camera (color), Antonio Riestra; editor, Nacho Ruiz Capillas; music, Pascal Gaigne; art director, Laia Colet; costume designer, Sonia Grande; sound (Dolby Digital), Eva Valino, Pelayo Gutierrez, Marc Orts. Reviewed at Cines Princesa, Madrid, Jan. 13, 2011. Running time: 104 MIN.

With: With: Veronica Echegui, Saumyata Bhattarai, Norbu Tsering Gurung. (Spanish, English dialogue)

More Film

  • Noele trailer Anna Kendrick

    Disney Unveils 'Noelle' Trailer Starring Anna Kendrick, Bill Hader

    Among the many announcements at the D23 Expo, Disney debuted the first look at holiday feature “Noelle,” which is set to premiere exclusively on Disney Plus this fall. “It isn’t Christmas without Santa’s Sister,” Walt Disney Studios said of the film on Twitter. Starring Anna Kendrick and Bill Hader, the Christmas flick tells the story [...]

  • A Hidden Life Movie Austria

    Film News Roundup: Austin Festival Selects Terrence Malick's 'A Hidden Life'

    In today’s film news roundup, the Austin Film Festival selects a Terrence Malick title, “A Day Without a Mexican” gets a sequel and DCR Finance signs a first-look deal. FESTIVAL SCREENING The Austin Film Festival will screen Terrence Malick’s “A Hidden Life,” which won the Francois Chalais and Ecumenical Jury awards at the Cannes Film [...]

  • Blake Lively

    Blake Lively's 'Rhythm Section' Moved Back to 2020

    Paramount Pictures has moved the release date of Blake Lively’s “The Rhythm Section” back two months from Nov. 22 to Jan. 31, 2020, the weekend of Super Bowl LIV. The spy tale, adapted from Mark Burnell’s novels surrounding character Stephanie Patrick, is produced by James Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson through their [...]

  • The Mandalorian

    'The Mandalorian': Watch the First Trailer for 'Star Wars' Series

    The gunslinging lone warrior — the Mandalorian, as they call him — calls the far reaches of the “Star Wars” galaxy home. Disney dropped the first trailer for the spinoff series during its biennial D23 convention on Friday, finally giving fans a closer look at the franchise’s newest character. “The Mandalorian” creator Jon Favreau, who [...]

  • Lady and the Tramp trailer

    'Lady and the Tramp': Disney's Live-Action Remake Gets First Trailer (Watch)

    Ready your dog-friendly bowl of spaghetti, Disney has debuted the first trailer for its live-action remake of “Lady and the Tramp,” starring Tessa Thompson and Justin Theroux. The teaser was released during Disney’s D23 Expo in Anaheim at the Disney + presentation. In addition to Thompson and Theroux, who play the Lady and Tramp, respectively, [...]

  • Mickey Mouse waves to members of

    Spider-Man, Spicer and Splashy First-Looks: Everything We're Looking For at D23

    As if Disney hasn’t owned enough weekends this year at the box office, the biennial D23 Expo will light up Anaheim, Calif. over the next three days to celebrate the content monolith. From a new Netflix-competing streaming platform to scores of movie and series reveals — along with a few hot controversies to confront — [...]

  • Angel Has Fallen

    'Angel Has Fallen' to Dominate Modest Box Office With $20 Million Weekend

    Gerard Butler and Morgan Freeman are leading the way at the North American box office with “Angel Has Fallen” on its way to about $20 million, early estimates showed Friday. Should forecasts hold, “Angel Has Fallen” will take in about double the next title, Universal’s second weekend of raunchy comedy “Good Boys” with about $10 [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content