Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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ARUN BHATTARAI, DOROTTYA ZURBÓ: THE NEXT GUARDIAN (2017) - SFIFF

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GEMTO AND TASHI SHARE A LAUGH IN THE NEXT GUARDIAN

Family misfits at a Buddhist monastery in Bhutan

The filmmaker pair closely follow their subjects for a while, then leave them with all up in the air. We meet the goofy dad, blessing people for money with a giant phallus and dancing clumsily with a mask. He runs a family inherited Tibetan Buddhist temple-monastery in Bhutan and he and his wife have two grown kids. We see them, Gyemto, the son, and Tashi, the daughter, joyously playing and training in soccer ball-handling. They gossip together about girls, which both are interested in, and they are on Facebook.

Dad wants Gyemto to attend monk training and take over the temple with more religious education than he had time to get, but he must finish studying in English school too; his mother sagely advises that people need English now, and he would need it to take foreign visitors around. We follow Tashi, who, as dad says, has long had "the soul of a boy," to girls soccer camp where she expects to get chosen for the national team.

Tashi does not get chosen. Dad takes Gyemto to the monastery where he wants him to train. It sounds grim. At this point, Gyemto stops talking to his father. And the father rattles on in a sort of singsong voice, with many gestures. No pressure, but if you don't do this, our patrimony will be taken away from us by the Buddhists or the government. But do what you want. No wonder Gyemto doses off that evening, as the drone goes on. But while he shuts down, he does not actively rebel and has told Tashi that if told to go to the monastery, he will do so.

Gyemto and Tashi still are best mates, still look at girls together. She begs him not to go to the monastery because then she will be alone. But at film's end, it's all up in the air.

This is another example of a documentary where the filmmakers have done a skillful job, mostly, of completely concealing that they are there, or hidden from us how much they may have influenced events. Congrats to everybody for not looking into the camera. But one feels a little cheated in more ways than one, though the scenery and settings are colorful and beautiful and the siblings are cute. Often documentaries fall into more or different things happening than they bargained for. This time less seems to happen than might have been expected. In a way this is novel and it takes a certain courage for the filmmakers to sit with it. But maybe they should have sat longer.

The Next Guardian, 85 mins., debuted at IDFA, also playing at Five Flavours, Budapest International Documentary Festival, True/False and the SFIFF, as part of which it was screened for this review.

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GEYEMTO AND HIS FATHER IN THE NEXT GUARDIAN

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