‘Tibet: A Buddhist Trilogy’


In 1979 British documentarian Graham Coleman went to India and Nepal and chronicled the rituals and meditative lifestyle of Tibetan monks displaced by the Chinese occupation. The resulting film was a nearly four-hour trilogy that, according to Coleman, was only shown in British cinemas in separate—and scrambled—sections. This year’s model is realigned, decked out with cheesy digital “visions” of sacred figures and graced with new subtitles, some of them simply transcribing spiritual text over silent praying. On the plus side, Coleman has cut almost 100 minutes—the mind boggles—but retained his three-act structure, and the upshot resembles an exhaustive BBC primer in Buddhist practice, with Coleman’s narration dripping with awe, and the chanted, heavily encoded metaphysics all translated so faithfully in titles you’d think they were endless spasms of surrealist automatic writing. The monks’ allegiance to their creed is framed as a political necessity in the post-1959-uprising climate, but watching tranquility and devotion does not translate to nonpractitioners as much more than a travel ad for the budding Larry Darrells among us. As the monks themselves threaten to nod off, the film’s impressive narcotic effect enters the bloodstream—or so it may seem only for the unenlightened like me.

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