Unrated, but it might be the most close-to-G rating that I've ever seen. I honestly can't think of a single thing that would get under someone's craw. Because the character has an emotional arc, he does treat tradition with a bit of scorn, but that is rectified by the end of the movie.
DIRECTOR: Pawo Choyning Dorji
Wait, how can this be up for an Academy Award if this was released in 2019? 1) I don't think I know exactly the rules of film distribution and 2) I don't know what the official Academy rules are regarding submission to the Academy Awards. But all of that is almost secondary because this might be a movie that exists in the story of its creation than the actual story itself.
It's going to make it hard to write about, I'll tell you that. Because, like CODA, I don't necessarily feel like it has Academy Award quality behind it. I mean, it's a fine movie. It does the job. It's feel goodery, which you guys know I tend to dislike. But the only thing that makes it special is that it is filmed in one of the remotest places in the world. That's really all that makes this movie special, the fact that it was hard to film. There was a movie a few years ago that I don't feel like Googling that was filmed secretly for years inside of Walt Disney World. (I think it was DisneyWorld, not DisneyLand.) I think the word "Tomorrow" was in the title, but that could be misremembering. I thought the movie was fine. But you were definitely watching it because of the gimmick. That movie didn't get any of the attention that Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom is getting. I will say that Lunana is a better movie than the other one. But that being said, so much of the film is criminally predictable.
Predictability can be a good thing sometimes. Going into this movie, you knew that everything was going to be telegraphed. Ugyen was such an archetype that him being in the movie made the film a trope. (Note: I just discovered that Ugyen Dorji, the character in Lunana is also the name of a former Btutanese prime minister. That had to be a choice. It's like me naming a character "William Howard Taft.") The film starts off with him sitting in an office and he's being scolded for being without motivation. Of course, this tiny town in the middle of nowhere was going to change him. The cynic in me screams in reaction to this notion. The entire walk to Lunana is him complaining that he doesn't want to do this and that the walk is a burden on him. Okay, fine. Whatever. He offers to stay until the Sherpas are heading back. (I apologize that I'm probably using the wrong term for Sherpa, but it's what I have in my lexicon. If someone could help me with the proper terminology, I would be grateful.) But nothing much happens between his arrival and his change of heart. Did he think that the kids there wouldn't be kids? What made him rediscover his love for teaching?
The answer, of course, is that they needed him. This seems off topic, but its not. When my wife was in med school, she refused to watch House with me. Most medical shows drove her up the wall, despite the fact that she used to watch those kinds of shows before med school. I'm the same way with stories about teachers. Stories about teachers drive me nuts because it seems like it is all about this magic light switch that goes off both for the teacher and for the student. Yeah, there's something really appealing about going to teach in the middle of nowhere without any supervision. (Yeah, that would be way too much of a temptation, knowing that no one was supervising my curriculum.) But Ugyen didn't seem like he wanted to be a teacher to begin with. There's a very weird question about why Ugyen wanted to become a teacher in the first place. Don't get me wrong: there are a lot of teachers like Ugyen out them. I tend to kind of hate them. I don't really get what made Ugyen the way he was. He wanted to become this singer, so why did he become this teacher? Is it that odd idea that anyone can be a teacher, so he supplemented his music career with a stable job? But that's just building up the idea that anyone can become a teacher.
Watching him just become a guitar player kind of bummed me out. Also, there was no leveling of students. The teachers in this tiny village always treated teachers with a level of respect that I would kill for, but all of the students are at the same level of skill, which happens to be kindergarten? What happens is that the kids kind of stay in this static place while Ugyen is the one who becomes this dynamic force. Isn't teaching more about the students than the teacher? It's not like these kids had anything but respect for their educations. Heck, if anything, they were pleading for educations. So their transitions from the beginning of the movie was from good kids to good kids who had a kindergarten educations? The point is to get them to change each other, yet we only look at this very awkward understanding of what it means to be a human being.
I mean, the movie is cute and all. It's very Hallmark. But the one thing that I can't hold against the movie is how beautiful the movie is. Because the movie is shot in Lunana, Bhutan, it has this epic look to the film that is hard to match. Actually, I've only seen that kind of imagery in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty remake. Actually, I did this whole thing about the visual appreciation of the travel narrative for a grad school class (and have an interesting story behind it to boot). But that's what Lunana is, a great travel narrative. In a way, it holds something in common with Fitzcarraldo than it does most other films. You watch it because it is a story that uses nature as not only a setting, but a central conflict. That's cool.
But the movie isn't great in itself. It's cute and pretty. Is that worthy of an Academy Award? Probably not, but I am still glad I watched it. And part of me might be acting a little harshly because it was nominated for an Academy Award. It gets my dander up. But it's just another feel good teaching movie and that's okay.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.