PICK Unmistaken Child: A Buddhist Detective Story in Nepal

Tibetan Buddhism has become the Hello Kitty/noble lost cause for Western spiritual seekers. But though the Dalai Lama does make a late appearance, this Israeli-produced documentary refrains from politics or idealizing the (poorly understood) beliefs of a tiny foreign sect. (That China has been attempting to rig the monks' reincarnation/succession process is all the context we need.) Rather, the film is all about process, as young English-speaking monk Tenzin Zopa is sent—rather like a detective—to seek the reincarnation of his recently deceased master. Zopa returns by helicopter to his home valley in northern Nepal, where, he explains, he became an apprentice to his late master as a boy. In trail shoes and North Face parka, he's now literally a stranger with candy—offering treats to little boys, asking if they recognize his master's old prayer beads. As he was once removed from home and kin, so too will be another filthy, adorable, snot-nosed, illiterate toddler. During Zopa's interviews, the parents look flattered yet justifiably concerned: Reincarnation would be an honor, one less mouth to feed, and a means to education—yet they'd have to consent to give up their child! It would be creepy if Zopa weren't so likeable, handsome (a bit like Tony Leung), and evidently trustworthy. And he grows in wisdom on his assignment. "I never planned for my life," he says. "Everything was planned by Geshe Lama" (his late master). When a young potential nominee is selected, those roles are effectively reversed: Zopa becomes the surrogate father to his future boss. Why he himself shouldn't be allowed to rise in the monastic hierarchy, why this self-fulfilling process of benign brainwashing should endure after so many centuries—those are questions that director Nati Baratz clearly raises, but leaves respectfully unanswered. His film is moving yet fundamentally mysterious.

 
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