Lunana A Yak in The Classroom
The Oscar season is heating up with the Academy Awards scheduled for the weekend and I happened to sneak in probably the final film in the Foreign Language caregory which I hadn’t yet watched. With that I finished watching Lunana A Yak In The Classroom which is the first Bhutanese film to be selected in the Oscars. And we at Popcorn Reviewss have made history by expanding our horizon too. This is the first of the many films from Bhutan which we will be watching and reviewing. Before I get to the review, just a word on the journey of the film. What a fairytale ride this has been. The director initially found it difficult to submit his film as Bhutan was not listed in the Oscars. Later on, the language in which the film is shot in Dzongkha was again not listed. After quite a struggle, the film finds itself in the top 5 foreign films this year! What a stunning journey and a proud moment for Bhutan as a country. That said is Lunana A Yak In The Classroom worth your time, stay tuned.
Story & Screenplay
Lunana A Yak In The Classroom follows the story of an aspiring musician seeking to go to Australia, who is given teaching duties in the world’s most remote school in Lunana. The story is quite simple yet layered in many ways. The template might remind you of the Hindi film Swades, but when you look closely the film takes a different route in terms of its storytelling technique. While the screenplay set the tone initially with the introduction of the protagonist and his aspirations, the drama seemed quite real and grounded without any melodrama. Cut to the journey of the protagonist, and it is here that we get a glimpse of a world which is far cut off from the hustle of the city. It is soothing, meditative and quite a breath of fresh air. Along the journey(which is a good chunk of the first half), the audience too is on a self discovery path like the protagonist, as the writing tackles certain issues as well.
The issues related to how people live up in the altitude to how global warming affects them is all nicely packaged in the journey. Once the destination is reached, the warmth of the place is shown which is just so infectious. Soon, the mood of the drama changes. There are cultural references mentioned which I quite enjoyed. The drama is filled with warmth yet it is philosophical in nature(watch out for the reference of the yak) which just melts your heart. The hardship of the students is shown well too. And the dynamics between the kids and the protagonist(as well as another woman) is so delicate and irganically shown that it is hard to dettach yourself from it. By the end of it, you are left with a bittersweet taste much like the protagonist but with a lump in your throat. The nostalgia of the final scene is quite moving and is enough to make grown up boys cry. What a beautiful screenplay, perhaps one of the best this year!
Dialogues, Music & Direction
The dialogues are conversational but poignant in many ways. The meditative and philosophical nature of the lines are maintained throughout. The music is integral to the film and it is beautifully woven in its narrative. The BGM is subtle and sparingly used. The cinematography is breathtaking and so refreshing. It captures the mountains and the nearby areas in frames which could act as a postcard. Director Pawo Choyning Dorji has done a phenomenal job here. It must have been quite a journey for him as a filmmaker and the co-producer here. And to witness his film in the top 5 this year at the Oscars must have been an icing on the cake. His direction is top notch!
The performances are just so beautiful here. The kids are just wonderful here particularly Pem Zem who had such a disarming smile. Likewise for Keldan Lhamo Gurung who is simply brilliant as Saldon. Ugyen Norbu Lhendup as Michen is earnest and does a fabulous job. And Sherab Dorji as Ugyen ensures that you feel every bit of his emotion. It is through his gaze that the movie unfolds and he is commendable in the film.
Lunana A Yak In The Classroom is a soothing and a meditative coming of age drama which is a breath of fresh air. It might be difficult but I will be rooting for this film to create history this weekend at the Academy Awards. I will reserve my loudest cheer for it then. Highly Highly Highly Recommended.