Sometimes a film without an explicitly political message becomes political because of who might appear in it. This is a perfect example. Self-exiled Ukrainian-born Russian filmmaker Vitaly Mansky documented a day in the life of the Dalai Lama at his Dharamshala headquarters in Sunrise/Sunset. To their credit, OVID.tv has most likely forsaken the Mainland Chinese market by streaming his intimate documentary, which starts streaming this Wednesday. They will probably also be frozen out of Russia too, because they are also picking up Mansky’s chilling Putin’s Witnesses the same day.
His Holiness is up early at 3:00 AM, when he starts his full routine of physical exercise and religious devotion. The Nobel Laureate also has a full agenda of dignitaries who have scheduled an audience with him. (Ironically, this day he is receiving an unofficial delegation from Russia.)
Mansky had total access during his 24-hour window, so he was able to capture an image rarely seen in Dalai Lama documentaries. That would be the armed guards the Indian government provides His Holiness. (Sadly, this is a necessary concession for the Peace Prize recipient.) Those who follow Tibet Buddhism will recognize Sunrise/Sunset was produced over ten years ago, because The Dalai Lama was still talking about his next reincarnation (just not in Tibet), whereas lately he has suggested (including in the doc, The Last Dalai Lama) he just might forego further reincarnations, to prevent the CCP from anointing a puppet imposter.
Regardless, he displays the same warm graciousness we are used to seeing from him. For the last twenty minutes or so, the Dalai Lama is only heard rather than seen, as Mansky marries up audio of an interview he conducted with footage of his long train trek back to Russia. Weirdly, His Holiness spends a great deal of time discussing over-population. However, one of his potential solutions, more recruiting more monks and nuns, might have been a dry joke.
Sunrise/Sunset (bonus points for everyone getting Fiddler on the Roof flashbacks) is a slow, quiet, reflective work of cinema. Viewers who enjoy that sort of film will be enchanted with this one. For more conventional tastes, it still represents the closest most people will come to an intimate encounter with His Holiness.
It is a short film (just 72 minutes), but Mansky brings a bit of visual style to his up-close-and-personal observational approach. Recommended for students of Tibetan Buddhism and fans of meditative cinema, Sunrise/Sunset premieres this Wednesday (8/4) on OVID.tv. Again, give credit to OVID for not self-censoring.