Film Review: Lunana – Finding happiness in a dark valley

Written by Ophelia
2 mins read
Published on Aug 19, 2022

​​Buddhist Film Reviews is a partnership between HOL & THIS Buddhist Film Festival 2022 (3rd Sep 2022). THISBFF 2022 features 1 film this year for viewers to get a taste of 2023’s full film festival!

TLDR: A reluctant educator is sent to a ‘dark valley’, what will he learn? Will he find happiness there or does happiness await for him in a place like Australia?

Where is happiness? Where do we pursue it?

Perhaps in Bhutan, the world’s happiest country.

Director Pawo Choyning Dorji explores the answer of happiness in a real-life inspired narrative and picturesque stills taken mainly in Bhutan’s Lunana, a remote village sitting on the Himalayan highlands along the Bhutan–Tibetan border.

The Dark Valley

Lunana, literally translated as the dark valley, is an eight-day hike from the nearest road. No electricity. No cellular data. Harsh cold winds. An isolated community of 56, Lunana is surrounded by the daunting heights of the Himalayan mountain range. 

No wonder the main protagonist, Ugyen, a reluctant educator from Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital, who so desires to migrate to Australia, finds it tough to accept a teaching stint to the children of Lunana, for them to be more than yak herders and cordyceps gatherers.

Weaving skilful cinematographic techniques with multi-layered storytelling, such as contrasting long shots of Himalayan mountains and close-up shots of character interaction, the film allows its viewers to experience humanity’s warmth that flows from a heart purified by Lunana’s vast pristine landscape. 

Throughout every intentional juxtaposition of characters sprinkled with dashes of humour, Director Pawo guides us to witness Ugyen’s growth from a stuck-up young adult into a self-sacrificing teacher that “touches the future” of Lunana’s young generation. 

Generosity in a material scarce land

Credits: THISBFF

As if the purity of Lunana’s land and its villagers’ humble hearts steeped into his, Ugyen learns how material scarcity distils into easy contentment and unwavering generosity. 

The latter virtue is most impressionable amongst the Lunana villagers. We observe the giving of material comfort to a stranger, the giving of compassion towards an unappreciative city-dweller, and the giving of goodwill towards all beings through an offering of songs. 

A yak in the classroom

Credits: THISBFF

The film’s recurring song, titled Yak Lebi Lhadar, has a heart-stirring tune that calls out the precious bond between a yak and his herder. In Bhutan, yaks are gentle creatures the highlanders depend on for fuel and meat. 

Viewers soon learn of this song’s significance in the film when Ugyen had to leave this village of simplicity before winter. 

From a receiver of Lunana villagers’ warm hospitality to a giver of hope and motivation to its children, Ugyen is seen to experience happiness in heart-warming moments as his generosity grows with the spirit of the highlanders.

See also  3 Things I Wished I Knew Before Starting Meditation

But is this happiness limited to being in Lunana? Where else can Ugyen seek it from? Would Ugyen return to Lunana again for the following spring? The viewers beg to wonder.

This film reveals details at the most unsuspecting moments to form the dots for viewers to connect! If you intend to watch, give all your attention to the little nooks and crannies in the story. The answer to happiness awaits in your awareness.


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Author: Ophelia

Ophelia loves cats and dogs, yet in all truths she struggles to love herself. As an introvert, she inclines to lose herself in a good book, in the forest or in the silence of a conversation. Ophelia broods over little musings in life. She searches for the purpose of life while very much attracted to its reality of death. Words are her way of connecting with people, at the start and at the end.

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