Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom – Film Review

Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom – Film Review
by Frank L

Written and Directed by Pawo Choyning Dorji
Stars – Sherab Dorji, Ugyen Norbu Lhendup, Kelden Lhamo Gurung

Ugyen (Sherab Dorji) lives with his grandmother in Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, and dreams of going to Australia. He is towards the end of his training to become a teacher when his supervisors decide that he should spend his final year in a distant village called Lunana, nestling high up in the Himalayas. Ugyen resents this decision but he has no option but to go. After a bus journey, he is joined by a guide and a couple of mules to make the long trek to Lunana. It is a journey that takes eight days but it does give Ugyen the space to adapt to a different sense of time.

He reaches the village and the school is little more than a stable with few facilities, not even a blackboard. But what it does have is a small group of enthusiastic children. Lunana is without electricity so there is no place for mobile phones. Ugyen is initially frustrated by the lack of modern amenities but he is gradually entranced by the small band of smiling pupils. Meanwhile, he discovers the importance of the Yak to the villagers. It has many uses not least the provision of fuel by means of its dried dung.

Music plays an important part in the narrative and there is a glorious sequence of the children in front of the school singing and dancing to the tune of “Old McDonald had a farm” played by Ugyen on his guitar. But Ugyen is learning too and acquires a song which resonates deeply within him. It becomes part of his repertoire and it resonates with him long after he has left the village in a very different environment to the remote village of Lunana.

Ugyen learns a great deal about life in the comparatively short time that he spends in Lunana. The everyday challenges he faces which he is able to overcome with his own skills are greatly assisted by the enthusiasm of the villagers, particularly the children. A mutually beneficial relationship has been struck.

This film gives some insight into the uniqueness of Bhutan and its traditions. It shows that humans can relate to each other with generosity and respect. There were all sorts of challenges in filming in this remote location which Pawo Choyning Dorji overcomes magnificently. This gem of a film brings an awareness that simplicity in everyday life has a unique value even if the raucous complexity of urban life is a constant challenge. Lunana and its inhabitants show that small things are valuable even if they are often taken for granted. The film brings to the fore the simple and applauds it.

Categories: Header, Movie Review, Movies

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