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The Search -- Film Review

August 17, 2009

Bottom Line: An itinerant cinematic wander
through Tibet that leaves a trail of open
questions about love, life and how to avoid ham actors.
By Maggie Lee
Hollywood Reporter
August 13, 2009

SHANGHAI -- Pema Tseden's "The Search" begins as
a quest for actors for a film adaptation of a
Tibetan play about Prince Drime Kunden, a saint
who gave away all his worldly possessions. It
organically evolves into an offbeat cultural
album of Tibetan people as well as a cinematic
pilgrimage to understand their lifestyles and
religious heritage. On another level, it is a
simple and poetic evocation of love, and how
despite its disappointments, people have difficulty letting go.

In addition to winning the Grand Jury Prix of the
Jin Jue Awards at Shanghai International Film
Festival, "The Search" is competing for the
Golden Leopard at Locarno International Film
Festival. From there, the film could springboard
to other world cinema festival niches.

Tseden's style is recognizably influenced by
Iranian cinema. In fact, his script is in some
aspects a re-working of Kiarostami's "Through the
Olive Trees." Both directors explore unrequited
love. The protagonists of "The Search" are also
members of a film crew -- the director (Manla
Kyab), the cameraman, the driver, and a businessman who acts as guide.

They arrive in a village, wherein resides the
best actress to play Drime Kunden's wife.
However, the girl (Lumo Tso), refuses to take on
the role unless they recruit her ex-lover to play
the prince. This is her pretext to patch up their relationship.

As they embark on their journey to find the
ex-lover, who teaches in a distant town, the
narrative trajectory assumes the discursive
philosophical road movie format of another
Kiarostami masterpiece, "Taste of Cherry."

A parallel story expressing inconsolable longing
for lost love unfolds as the businessman
(Tsondrey) recounts his fateful first love while
driving. A close-up through the car window
captures with poignancy tears welling up in the girl's pensive eyes.

Her final meeting with the boyfriend (Kathub
Tashi) takes place in a school playground. The
distanced, stationary shot lasting two-and-a-half
minutes gives the impression of time standing
still. Not a word between them can be heard, but
her heartbreak is acutely palpable. Not once does
she take off her scarf to reveal her face, itself a symbol of love's mystery.

A diverse tapestry of Tibetan people passes
through the crew's auditions. Some are droll,
such as cute young monks who recite mantras like
rappers, and others hilarious ham actors. A
moving scene of three children so lost in their
roles they burst into tears probes the line between art and life.

Through excerpts from the play performed at
auditions, one learns about Drime Kunden's
transcendence of worldly attachments, symbolized
by his donation of his eyes, wife and children to
Brahmins. He sets a spiritual example for the
protagonists, who suffer because they are
attached to their lost loves. As they cannot live
up to this ideal, while other characters
criticize Kunden for forsaking his family, the
film hints at the ambivalent meaning of religious
ideals in a modern secular world.

Performances flow with the documentary-like
candor of a 'making of' DVD featurette. The
cinematography is formalistic, yielding
meticulous compositions of magnificent traveling
vistas and poetic long shots of human beings.

Venue: Shanghai International Film Festival
Production: Himalaya Audio & Visual Culture Communication Co. Ltd.
Cast: Manla Kyab, Tsondrey, Lumo Tso, Kathub Tashi
Director-screenwriter: Pema Tseden
Presented by: Pema Tseden, Sangye Gyamtso
Producers: Tseshuk Tso, Sangye Gyamtso
Chief supervisor: Xu Feng
Production supervisors: Tian Zhuangzhuang, Pierre Rissient
Director of photography-art director-costume designer: Sonthar Gyal
Editors: Chen Hailing, Benjamin Illes, Zhou Xing
No rating, 117 minutes
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