Film review:
Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom

A heartwarming and sometimes profound Oscar nominated film from Bhutan

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The wonderfully named – and simply wonderful – Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom (from 10 March, Showroom Workstation, Sheffield and other venues) was last year the first Oscar-nominated film to emerge from the remote country of Bhutan.

A young teacher, Ugyen, dreams of moving to Australia, where he wants to make a living playing his guitar and singing. But before his visa is granted, he finds himself posted to the remote village of Lunana, high up in the Himalayan glaciers. Leaving behind his modern life in Bhutan’s capital, Ugyen is initially perplexed by the customs and superstitions of the isolated yak herding community he is sent to join, and disheartened by their lack of basic amenities such as electricity, paper or even a blackboard. The enthusiasm of his young students and the unassuming warmth of the villagers soon work their magic on Ugyen, however, and he finds himself captivated by the simplicity of life he discovers there.

Shot on location at the world’s most remote school, in the real village of Lunana, this is a beautiful, visually poetic and contemplative film, and a fascinating peek at a culture that’s rarely seen on screen. Writer and director Pawo Choyning Dorji has created something utterly magical, backed up by impressive cinematography and a beautiful score. The drama, such as it is, is simple but strangely engaging. Will Ugyen ever learn the words to the song about the yaks? That’s about as tense as it gets. But the script, while full of notions about finding happiness and material value, is never overly earnest and there are some lovely light touches of humour scattered throughout this fish out of water story.

The cast too are all impressive. Sherab Dorji makes his screen debut playing Ugyen. He perfectly charts his character’s development from a moody young man who walks around with his headphones on constantly to an adult who is confronted with big questions about the nature of existence. Even more impressive are the village folk, particularly Pem Zam, the nine year old who is a student of the Lunana primary school herself, who has never left her remote village let alone used the internet or watched a movie.

This is a film that you’ll not want to end and one which will linger with you for a long time afterwards.

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