CAPSULE: With a minimum of explanation or narration writer/director Nati Baratz follows the process of the search for and verification of the very young reincarnation of a recently deceased Buddhist Lama. The process began in 2001 and took four years from toddler to teacher. The film takes us to see the method of choosing a candidate and the process of verifying that the "right" child has been chosen. Along the way the documentary silently invites either belief or skepticism. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Israeli filmmaker Nati Baratz takes us to Nepal to document as it happens the intriguing true story of the search for the reincarnation of a great Buddhist teacher. UNMISTAKEN CHILD looks at the faith of Nepalese Buddhists and their process for choosing a successor to a beloved lama, recently deceased. The chosen child must be less than eighteen months old and yet show signs of being the reincarnation of the lama.
Master Lama Konchog died in 2001. To those who believed in the lama death is not the end of their relationship with him. It is only an interruption. There is no doubt in their minds that Konchog's spirit has chosen the body of a very young boy, twelve to eighteen months old, has filled him with his soul, and is continuing his great work in the body of the boy. They have, they believe, only to find the young reincarnation and restore him to his position of honor. But how can they find the boy who does not himself know his great cosmic purpose? A monk is chosen by the Dalai Lama to go on this seemingly impossible quest. Chosen is Tenpin Zopa, a self-effacing and withdrawn student of Konchog. Tenzin is given the guidance of his dreams and some astrological readings to help him narrow his search for the boy.
In Nepal the modern world sits side-by-side with a life-style and tradition centuries old. Tenzin wears the ubiquitous Buddhist red and gold robes when he is not wearing a T-shirt bearing the mystical inscription "Nike". Tenzin lives in a modest monk's room with a small cabinet that opens to reveal a small television set. His quest will be made on foot or by mule, except for the parts where he is taxied by helicopter. And of course on his mission he is accompanied by a documentary film crew of undisclosed size.
Photography by Yaron Orbach shows us the aloof beauty of the rocky and misty mountains of Nepal. We also see the hard realities of Nepalese mountain village life. The pacing of the film is frequently slow and requires some small part of the patience show by the people of the mountain villages.
As most of Baratz's audience is probably not Buddhist, the film suggests the viewer see the proceedings in two ways, as a believer might and as an unbeliever might. This makes it really two films. The believing half will see miraculous verification in the film that indeed the boy chosen is correct and the process has worked. To the non-believing half the ways of Buddhism will seem quaint. He may question the taking of so young a child from his family and village and told that he must become a monk. I rate UNMISTAKEN CHILD a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
There are questions that really went unanswered during the narrative. How does the family of the chosen boy really feel about having their child taken from home at such a young age to become a lama? Perhaps a related question: How does having a film crew present affect Tenzin, how does it affect the chosen child, and how does it affect the boy's family? If the family objected, would they have felt they could have protested in front of the camera?
This film has been playing at film festivals including the Toronto International Film Festival and will have a limited release in the United States beginning June 4, 2009.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt1286798
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/unmistaken_child
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2009 Mark R. Leeper