Kundun (1997)

Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Melissa Mathison

It seems peculiar that I would include this film for Scorsese when there are a few of his better known films I haven’t seen yet, but I picked it up in a used DVD shop about a year ago and still had yet to get to it, so I selected it more out of convienence than anything else. But that day I bought this film, I had the same curiosity about it. I bought it for two reasons. One was that it was directed by Scorsese. The name alone sold me. The other was that it reminded me of The Last Emperor, a film I absolutely love. I gleaned this just from looking at the cover of the DVD and proceeded to push it to the back burner until this morning when I finally sat down to watch it. Scorsese is probably best known for his gangster type films with his muses De Niro and DiCaprio, but this time he teams up with unknowns in seemingly unknown Scorsese territory to tell the tale of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama.

I think the fact that it was so different than anything else I have seen from Marty threw me for a second. Using no name actors and telling the story of the Dalai Lama and his fight against communist China? Wha? Well once I got adjusted to what I was seeing I also got bored by the narrative, something I did not expect with the story that was being told. The film is great, don’t get me wrong, perhaps just not in its storytelling. It was nominated for four Academy Awards that year: Cinematography (Deakins, go figure), Score, Art Direction, Costume Design. And I can attest to the brilliance of each and every one of these artistic acheivements. The film is gorgeous to look at. Just further proof that filmmaking truly is a collaborative effort amongst many people. But back to the story. As I was saying, I was fairly bored with the narrative. But once the second half of the film took hold, I really started connecting more with the film.

The montages, filled with wonderful score, proved a brilliant stroke by the hand of director Scorsese and the editor. That being said, the score was sometimes too prevalent, as beautiful as it was, and I felt like I was not emotionally connected to the characters and their struggle against Mao and China. Given, this is one of those stories that will always have at least a little bit of interest from me by its very nature. Tibet has long been a battle ground, similar to much of the Middle East, and is a conflict that will see years and years of more oppression and conflict. The film is a good document of the struggle of the Dalai Lama, but I would rather watch an actual documentary on the circumstance than this particular film. Scorsese is a great director, having seen 6 of his other films I can attest to that fact as well. I just don’t think Kundun will add anything to his greatness for me, even if it does add to the greatness of Roger Deakins.

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