Travellers and Magicians (Khyentse Norbu). 103 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (February 11). For venues and times, see page 107. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
When Kevin Bacon pits himself against the powers of tradition in Footloose, anyone who's spent time soaking in American culture knows what's at stake and who's supposed to win.
It's not hard to see why; ideas about religion and rebellion are struts in the scaffolding of the conventional wisdom that supports a civilization's cultural output. Approve or not, anyone who's grown up in North America knows what a rebellious teenager means.
Which is why it's both illuminating and disorienting to watch movies built on unfamiliar, non-Western cultural frameworks: you know certain assumptions are being made, but you wonder whether or not you get them.
Take Travellers And Magicians, a kind of Himalayan anti-Footloose. Dondup, a young official in a small mountain town, dreams of moving to America. When a letter from a friend opens a window of opportunity, he takes off on a three-day trip to the nearest American embassy.
On the way, he meets a monk who tells him a story about the futility of pursuing dreams; their trip becomes a frame for his story, and as other travellers join them (including a quiet, pretty young woman), Dondup's resolve to leave Bhutan seems to weaken.
It's a Buddhist parable, a stand against Americanization and an absorbing story set amid breathtaking scenery. But a few crucial details are problematic to the outsider, and they're all about attitude: the official, with his flowing hair and air-guitar posing, is obviously a bit of a tool, but are we supposed to find the monk's relentless, cheerful piety so irritating, or is that a response conditioned by too much Kevin Bacon?
And the nearly non-verbal love interest who's abandoning her education to look after her father -- are we justified in finding her a bit tragic, or have we just seen Pretty In Pink once too often?