TRAVELLERS & MAGICIANS (Khyentse Norbu, 2003)
Cabaret Cinema, Rubin Museum of Art
150 West 17th St. at Seventh Ave.
Friday, July 8, free with $7 bar minimum, 9:30
Part road movie, part film noir, part spiritual quest, the charming Travellers & Magicians will sneak up on you when you least expect it. And just when you're sure it will become a predictable tale of one man's choice between a simple, beautiful, struggling village and the promise of wealth in America, it twists and turns and leaves you with an ear-to-ear smile and an ache in your heart. After scoring an international hit with The Cup (1999), writer-director Khyentse Norbu, who is also the Tibetan Buddhist His Eminence Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, the third incarnation of a principal lama, decided to make a film in his native Bhutan, a tiny country amid the vast Himalayas. Using untrained actors, Norbu tells the story of Dondup (Tshewang Dendup), a cigarette-smoking city dweller who comes to work in a small village that bores him. He listens to loud pop music and keeps his hair long, readying to go to the States to make money. He shuns the Buddhist tradition and is always in a hurry, never able to relax and look within himself or at the stunning country around him. While waiting for a ride on the deserted mountain roads, he is joined by an old apple picker, a rice paper maker and his daughter, and a young monk who plays the dramyin; the latter begins telling a mystical tale of loyalty, spirituality, brotherly love, faith, riches, and murder.
The first feature-length film to be shot in Bhutan, Travellers & Magicians starts off somewhat slowly and obvious, with Dondup's character over the top, but stick with it; the music, locations, and storytelling eventually come together like magic. Travellers & Magicians is screening Friday night at the Rubin Museum as part of the Pilgrimage & Faith series, being held in conjunction with the exhibit “Pilgrimage and Faith: Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam,” and will be introduced by anthropologist Laurel Kendall. Admission to the museum is free on Friday nights, so be sure to check out the other current exhibits as well, which include “Patterns of Life: The Art of Tibetan Carpets,” “Masterworks: Jewels of the Collection,” “Body Language,” and “Quentin Roosevelt’s China.” (The series continues July 15 with Ismaël Ferroukhi's Le Grand Voyage, July 22 with Luis Buñuel's The Milky Way, July 29 with Edmund Goulding's The Razor's Edge," and August 5 with Pier Paolo Pasolini's The Canterbury Tales.)