RiverRun 2018: Becoming Who I Was

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Dir. Moon Chang-young and Jeon Jin, South Korea, 2017, 95 min.

Men put horns to mouths, releasing intense, guttural resonances. Worshippers emit multitonal chants and twirl hand drums. Among them sits a 9-year-old boy, bedecked in the burgundy robes of a Tibetan Buddhist monk and blessing those who approach him with a light tap on the head. He is Rinpoche, a high lama who has been reincarnated in northern India, far from the Tibetans’ native homeland.

And he seeks to return.

This heartwarming documentary follows the young Rinpoche as he spends his days playing with friends, visiting his mother and being fed and dressed by his aging caretaker/teacher. Like a refrain, he repeatedly says he wants to return to the monastery in Tibet where he lived in a past life, which he dreams about at night.

But the boy can be easily frightened and is embarrassed by his short height, and the years stretch on as his Tibetan disciples fail to appear. One wonders if he and his teacher will survive the months-long trek to Tibet — through busy cities and darkly lit rural roads — or even if they will be able to return at all. Though not a political film, the directors handle the Tibetan-Chinese conflict and the danger of crossing the border with grace and pragmatism.

Set primarily against the snowy, mountainous landscape of Ladakh, India, the film is a visual masterpiece and a reminder that life can be extraordinarily difficult and transcendentally beautiful.

Becoming Who I Was screens Friday at 2 p.m. at Hanesbrands Theatre, April 22 at 4 p.m. at A/perture 1 and April 24 at 7:30 p.m. at A/perture 2.

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