Monday, December 5, 2016

Kushuthara Pattern of Love

Karma Deki's Bhutanese film Kushuthara Pattern of Love has won tremendous praise throughout Asia and is currently preparing its American release. It has been doing tremendously on the international film festival circuit winning a bevy of awards. The film is stunning on many levels. First, it is a fascinating romance that develops between an American journalist/ photographer Charlie (Emrhys Cooper) and native weaver Chokimo (Kezang Wangmo). Set in the village of Kurtoe-Menjey in the Kingdom of Bhutan, the plot has Chokimo already in love with villager Bumpala. When Charlie and Chokimo meet for the first time, they experience a kind of deja vu. Their attraction goes very, very deep. It is an example of what the natives believe to be Karmic reincarnation. Charlie and Chokimo were somehow connected in many past lives.

Charlie is in Bhutan to photograph the village weavers for a Los Angeles newspaper spread. It is a first, as the natives have never opened up their culture to the West. And, of special interest... Emrhys Cooper is the very first Western actor to star in a Bhutanese movie. When Charlie and his guide Penjor. played by Jamyang Jamtsho Wangchuk* speak to one another, of course, they speak in English. When the natives are together speaking and singing in their native language Dzongkha, subtitles in English appear onscreen. Audience, therefore, are fully aware of what is happening at all times. In spite of this, there is mystery afoot, and that partially emanates from the legend of the cloth. Weaving symbolizes wisdom, the cleansing of ignorance. Patterns on cloth mean creativity. The Kushuthara garment that is worn by the one who is loved brings her (him) eternal peace, and the entire world sparkles with light. It is a beautiful way to make a living, as the village women sit and weave together, reciting poetry and telling enlightening stories that may change lives for the better, or however fate has designed it.

At the core lies Buddhism in all of its glory. A person who is truly in love loves the same person in thousands of past lives. There is one essential legendary story in the plot that the weavers relate of two villagers, young Meto (Karma Chedon) and her older lover Phuntsho (Kencho Wangdi) who loved each other passionately but whose love was never consecrated in marriage. Phuntsho was called away to foreign lands to market textiles and never returned, causing Meto much suffering. She committed suicide, throwing herself from a high mountain. Charlie has unexplained dreams of Meto and Phuntsho, as does Chokimo. She mysteriously takes on the character traits of Meto, and Charlie those of Phuntsho. Poor Bampala suffers too, as he witnesses Charlie falling in love with Chokimo. Chokimo owes much to Bampala, so when Charlie asks her to leave Bhutan with him, she refuses, in spite of her love for him. Their love must end, just as did that of Phuntsho and Meto. The Karmic philosophy teaches that true love means sacrificing your happiness for the happiness of the one you love. It is all for a higher purpose.

The film is exceedingly moving as we experience Charlie's and Chokimo's inner most emotions up close. The palpable beauty of the scenery and that of the traditional music of the weavers add greatly to the love story and to our appreciation of the culture. When the native men gather together with the women in the evening, Charlie is asked to dance and share his Western skill and heritage, Cooper opens a vibrant side to Charlie's personality, attempting to create a more harmonious fusion of the two divergent musical cultures.

Cooper does a wonderful job portraying Charlie's innocence and vulnerability throughout. His is a sincere and earnest portrayal, as he wins our sympathy and trust. Wangmo is not only lovely to look at, but brings much luminosity and wisdom to Chokimo, who understands her true place in the world. We can only hope that their separate paths will eventually bring them the fulfillment they deserve. The rest of the cast are equally worthy of praise with Karma Chedon a standout as the wounded Meto.

In short, the entire cast simply shine under Deki's ultra sensitive direction. Kushuthara is a little gem of a film that gently opens up our hearts as well as our minds to the acceptance of the unknown. 

Don't miss it soon in select theatres near you on the 27th of January, 2917. It will also be available on all VOD platforms.

*Jamyang Jamtsho Wangchuk is best known for costarring alongside Brad Pitt as the Dalai Lama in Seven Years in Tibet

5/5 stars

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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Till We Meet Again

Till We Meet Again, an independent film from 2015, written by its star Johan 'John' Matton and directed by Bank Tangjaitrong, has been playing film festivals and picking up awards as Best Film. As I read the description, I thought, "Oh no, not another film about young lovers with relationship difficulties! After five years of living together, this couple have reached the point where they must explore options. They need to find themselves." This type of story has been done to death, so what makes this film so special?

What stands out in a vital way in Till We Meet Again is its bicultural slant. It takes place in New York and in Thailand. Matton has a love of travel and wonderfully incorporates his feelings into this story of how culture may affect you in a positive way. He has one character express it ever so clearly, "New York is a rat race. You are who everyone else wants you to be. (Thailand) realigns you with who you really are".

The fast pace of New York city living can take its toll on anyone and so it does on artist Joanna (Linnea Larsdotter) and painfully shy writer Erik (John Matton), who become trapped, so to speak. He has come to rely on her for almost everything; she wants him to open up and talk. The bottom line? They need a change of scene, and since Joanna has a love of the Asian culture, Erik purchases two plane tickets to Thailand. When the date approaches, he is taking some scuba lessons and Joanna insists that he stay behind and finish. She will go to Thailand alone and he can join her in a few days. The problem is she has agreed to visit her old friend David (Emrhys Cooper) and doesn't realize that his new girlfriend has already departed for New York. Erik agrees to let her go, but panics at the thought of her with another man. She assures him it's nothing, but, of course, David has other plans for Joanna.

When Erik arrives, he is supposed to meet them at the night market, a big open flea market in Bangkok. They miss each other, but not without David spotting Erik with a girl - one he has just met accidentally - and Erik later seeing Joanna seemingly romantic with David. Erik thinks the worst, does not call after her and proceeds to go off with Miranda (Astrea Campbell-Cobb). Miranda introduces Erik to her band of hippie-like friends and he is offered cheap lodging. As it turns out Joanna and Erik never meet up...until much later.

Matton has nicely fashioned two separate journeys through the beautifully scenic Thailand, Joanna learns some valuable lessons about relationships through David; Erik has acquired newfound friendship on his travels and a new attraction with Miranda, something he has desperately needed for a long, long time. Director Tangjaitrong tells the tale at a brisk yet finely tuned pace, allowing all the actors to express their emotions believably. He also provides past glimpses of Joanna and Erik in New York via flashbacks, allowing us to clearly understand where their problems began.

The acting is superb from all concerned. Larsdotter is palpably real and engaging, an actress to keep your eye on. Matton is equally astounding. He allows us to see Erik change little by little in unexpected ways. Cooper does some of his finest work onscreen, as he plays David with a remarkable edge. He appears nice and caring at first, but eventually lets out his disdain for the natives and struts a sense of entitlement that just won't quit, particularly with Joanna. His villainous scenes are intensely dramatic, yet played with modulation and restraint. Campbell-Cobb is another actress to watch. She instantly rivets with Miranda's flirty, kooky behavior.

Director Tangjaitrong encourages the viewer to make his own choices. For whatever reason, you may favor Erik's side to the story or Joanna's. I chose Erik's, as I could relate well to his shyness and his need for new friends and experiences. Thailand's lush scenery provides just the right background for change and much praise must go to cinematographer Lance Kuhns. Don't miss Till We Meet Again, now in select theatres!
5/5 stars