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ARTHOUSE FILMS

Chicago Sun-Times
April 20, 2007

By Bill Stamets

Angry Monk: Reflections on Tibet" and "Dreaming Lhasa" 3 stars

In a Tibetan twofer, you get a documentary and a drama about a documentary maker in this discounted double bill. Besides sharing strobe-lit disco scenes and offscreen political torture, both 2005 films depict Tibet suspended between neighboring states. Since the 1950 invasion by China and the Dalai Lama's 1959 exile to India, Tibetan culture survives occupation and diaspora.

"Angry Monk: Reflections on Tibet" documents the life of Gedrun Choephel, a Tibetan monk who found another calling as a traveler, writer and painter. He uncovered sacred scrolls, advocated modernization, translated the Kama Sutra, and wrote Tibet's first political history. But three years in prison as a suspected revolutionary killed his spirit, and he died in 1951 in Lhasa.

Luc Schaedler retraces Choephel's path across Tibet and around India. The Swiss director reincarnates Choephel's contrarian eye with his own take on today's Tibet. This incisive film -- which opens with rare footage of angry monks throwing stones at Chinese troops -- nicely resists and complicates simpler views of the storied land.

"Dreaming Lhasa," co-directed by Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam, is a sojourn too. Karma (Tenzin Chokyi Gyatso) is a New Yorker interviewing former political prisoners in Dharamsala, where many Tibetans now live in northern India. One of her video's subjects, Dhondup (Jampa Kalsang), seeks a missing CIA-trained resistance fighter. With her local fixer Jigme (Tenzin Jigme), Karma researches the elusive Loga (Phuntsok Namgyal Dhumkhang). Despite a cliched closure and political slogans framed for background, "Dreaming Lhasa" manages to enchant with its simplicity and scenery.

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