While I was doing a wiki on the recently released nominations for the Oscars, I observed this film, Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom, in the Best International Feature Film category. What surprised me was the fact that this film came all over from Bhutan. I had never watched a Bhutanese film before and Lunana created history to represent Bhutan for the first time in the Oscars. After further research, the film’s reputation impressed me that this film has reached various film festivals for screening and won a couple of biggies like Palm Springs International Film Festival and had a World Premiere at the BFI London Film Festival.
Lunana is a beautiful remote valley of Bhutan. With a few houses and an extremely limited population, people here make their living from yaks and sheep. The film is about young Ugyen who is enrolled for training in teaching. But his heart is in becoming a singer and moving to Australia for a better living. The institute moves him to Lunana for a temporary period to teach small kids. Meeting some new social challenges and way of living getting tougher, Ugyen experiences life like never before.
This film heavily reminded me of Ashutosh Gowariker‘s Swades and Greg Mortenson‘s famous book Three Cups of Tea because Lunana excitingly had elements of both. Like rural simplicities, hospitality, and generosity from both, Himalayan mountain climbing to teaching in a least-facilitated school from the book, reluctant of adapting rural methods but going 360 for the betterment from the film. Lunana is a hybrid sense of finesse for a film and a book.
Watching a Bhutanese film for the first time, I actually am impressed with the filmmaking as obviously there has to be the reason why this film came to international fame. The first forty minutes have quite a slow and steady buildup to the story. Ugyen’s character development is the clear winner. His character complexity in traveling Lunana to enthusiasm for children are the best parts of screenwriting. The audience goes with the flow; the audience travels to Lunana with him and feels his jeopardy.
With a delicate sense of detailing, the director Pawo Choyning Dorji has shot the film with meticulous care. A lot of small portions are taken care of that means a lot. There is a thoughtful moment when in Lunana, Ugyen observes the old villager without shoes. He reasons that he doesn’t have money to fill his feet. In the next scene, his child shows up to his bare feet in her shoes. Very touching. The scene had nothing to do with the plot but these are the segments where the director gives value to the sub-detailing that builds the characters and gives the audience their part of the theory.
There is a scene where Ugyen teaches ‘C for Car’ but the kids do not recognize what a car is. So he replaces the car with a cow because they are familiar with that. In the world of automobiles, the director gives the audience their chance to realize that there are remote places where a thing called a car can neither exist nor humankind can imagine such a thing to exist.
I keep writing about the film being Bhutanese but I am compelled due to the filmmaking brilliance that I wasn’t expecting to be that good. Yes, it is a predictable story with the script nowhere meeting its tragic anti-climax or any sign of negative energy about an outsider influencing people of a certain place; but the productional aesthetics and the screenplay are just marvelous.
Lunana successfully conveys the message that the simplest ways of life can transform a human into happiness. Reaching the Oscar is a historic moment in their history and the film deserves its piece of the limelight. Lunana is a beautiful drama and highly recommended to all the viewers.