Kundun is a film made around 1996 by Martin Scorsese, featuring no famous actors. If you know that Kundun is a name (meaning 'The Presence' for the Dalai Lama ('Ocean of Knowledge') then you will have guessed the subject of the film correctly.

There is no storyline to the film other than the chronicaling of the period from when the fourteenth Dalai Lama was 'discovered' (c. 1940) until when he travels - exiled - into India (1959).

I think that the film first focuses on showing the interesting features of the Tibetan life and culture (then) and the Buddhist religion.
The 'main event' then occurs: Revolution in China and the 'motherland's' reclaiming/invasion of Tibet. An interesting feature, I suppose because he is such a devastatingly infamous 'real person' (TM), is having Chairman Mao as an actual character.
From here the film shows the horror of the situation for the Tibetans and the sad dilema for Kundun.

Pretty images with effective, 'clever', occaisionally odd, film techniques seem to be used throughout. The mix of these 'surreal' sections and the depressingly 'real' story is interesting and makes a good film, I think. No additional off-topic storyline is required to make a complete movie.

The Film could also, perhaps, be seen as a study of Buddhism and so the Dalai Lama's problems. He seems to acknowledge at points that Tibet is no paradise politically - saying, as the Chinese invade, something along the lines of 'It is a shame, as things were going to change around here soon anyway' and stating that he felt Buddhism had some things in common with Socialism. Personally I don't think the leader seriously had any political plans, and since the time he has not made political points further that being against China (for obvious reasons). However, the invasion forces Tibet, Buddhism and the Dalai Lama to be exposed to the 'modern world', which seems a Great Shame!
The Dalai Lama has said that if he does return to Tibet it will be only as a spiritual leader, not political, surely suggesting that he quite fancies a Democracy.

Kundun, a movie written by Melissa Mathison (screenwriter, ex-wife of Harrison Ford and author of E.T.), directed by Martin Scorsese, and scored by Philip Glass, was released in 1997. It tells the story of the fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, from his "discovery" in a tiny village on the border of China and Tibet in 1937 to his exile in 1959 to Dharamsala, India.

The Dalai Lama is, of course, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, and the title of the movie is one of their names for him, which translates as "The Presence". The movie was shot in Morocco with a largely Tibetan cast, many of whom have never seen Tibet, and who must have felt strange seeing Lhasa's beautiful monastery/palace, the Potala, recreated in Morocco's mountainous terrain.

The movie follows its historical events quite closely, from Kundun's coming of age as a true Buddhist through his trip to Beijing to meet a horrifyingly slimy Mao Zedong and only slightly less sinister Zhou Enlai, to China's subsequent annexation of Tibet in 1950 and the Dalai Lama's eventual flight over the Himalayas. Overall, the film is beautiful, incorporating gorgeous costumes and stunning scenery with exotic ceremonies and appropriately mysterious music. My biggest complaint is that it is rather plodding and reverential. It's not that I imagined that there would be some terrible secret in the Dalai Lama's early life that should be dredged up. It's just that he is a famously joyful person who punctuates his duties and practices with sparkling eyes and a ready smile. When he was assisting in the making of the movie, he apparently burst into laughter when he met the actor who played him as a young man in costume - "Oh, you're trying to be me!" I have heard him confess in an interview with an infectious giggle how naughty he was as a teenager. But little of his abundant joie de vivre found its way into the film, and more's the pity for that. The Dalai Lama has led his people through extreme hardship with wit, charm, humour and faith, but it is only the faith that animates him here. Too bad.

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