LOOKING FOR A LADY WITH FANGS AND A MOUSTACHE (Khyentse Norbu, 2019)
Rubin Museum of Art
Thursday, April 8, suggested admission $15, 5:00
Opens virtually Friday, April 9
Every November, my partner travels to Kathmandu in Nepal to study with a meditation teacher, known as a Rinpoche, and I have accompanied her several times. This annual trip became impossible last year because of Covid-19. But writer-director Khyentse Norbu’s latest film, Looking for a Lady with Fangs and a Moustache, made us feel like we were there once again, in this mystical, spiritual land.
A Bhutan-born Tibetan Buddhist teacher and filmmaker, Norbu, also known as Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, the third incarnation of a principal lama, maintains a calm, meditative pace in telling the story of a secular man suddenly staring death in the face. Tenzin (Tsering Tashi Gyalthang) rides his motorcycle through Kathmandu, trying to find a place to open a Western-style coffee shop. He is guided by Rabindra (Rabindra Singh Baniya), who is not happy when Tenzin is drawn to an abandoned monastery that was partially destroyed in the devastating 2015 earthquake. “Are you crazy?” Rabindra says, claiming that the building is “the womb of the goddess.” But Tenzin is a nonbeliever, more concerned that his button-down shirt and tie are properly adjusted and his hair is perfect than offending a would-be divine being.
Tenzin starts having strange dreams involving a young girl skipping barefoot through a field of marigolds, so his friend Jachung (Tulku Kungzang), worried about what the dreams mean, takes him to see a fabulously cool cereal-loving psychic monk (Ngawang Tenzin) who wears shades and headphones and regularly checks his iPad. The monk interprets the dreams to be a signal that Tenzin has only a week to live unless he finds a dakini, a sacred female messenger of wisdom and power. “You don’t have much time left. Better go and see your friends and relatives,” the monk says. “If you have any money, spend it all and have some fun. I heard you’re a modern man, so you won’t offer to monasteries anyway.” Tenzin is told to visit with the Master of Left Hand Lineage (Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche), who will further advise him about dakinis. Meanwhile, Tenzin continues going to a traditional Tibetan music class with Janchung and Kunsel (Tenzin Kunsel), taught by a wise, elderly man (Loten Namling).
Tenzin at first thinks his supposed fate is nonsense until strange things start happening to him and the prospect of his potential impending death finally gets to him. He searches for a dakini, which could be any woman he sees, particularly if they have fangs, a moustache, and three eyes. Meanwhile, the Master instructs, “If everyone believed they only had seven days to live, the world would be peaceful.” As the end of the week approaches, Tenzin must decide what, and whom, to believe as he examines the world he has made for himself.
Looking for a Lady with Fangs and a Moustache is a beautifully constructed, deeply contemplative parable about tradition and modernity in a culture that melds the good and the bad, spirituality and practicality, life and death. Norbu, whose previous films include 1999’s much-loved The Cup, in which two boys are desperate to watch the World Cup at a monastery that doesn’t have a working television, and 2003’s extraordinary Travellers and Magicians, a road movie in which the Bhutanese protagonist wants to leave the Himalayas for the prospect of success in America, once again explores the idea of a personal quest in his latest work. Tenzin’s hunt for a dakini represents the pursuit all of us have for something other than what is already within us. The film is gorgeously photographed by famed Taiwanese cinematographer Mark Lee Ping-bing (In the Mood for Love, The Assassin), with reds, yellows, greens, and blues blossoming from the brown, gray ancient city of Kathmandu.
In one nearly four-and-a-half-minute uncut scene shot from a few dozen feet away with a stationary camera, the rock-and-roll monk is seen through an open doorway on the right, sitting cross-legged on a white cushion, relaxed and comfortable as he checks his iPad. Tenzin stands by an open doorway on the left, his arms crossed in stark refusal of what is happening to him. The two men are separated by a window in front of which are three large potted ferns and two smaller plants, life growing gloriously between them. They are not quite as different as they might appear.
Looking for a Lady with Fangs and a Moustache is having a special online screening on April 8 at 5:00, kicking off the Rubin Museum’s “Brainwave: Awareness” series, followed by a live Q&A with Norbu and neuroscientist Dr. Richard Davidson. The film opens virtually on April 9.