CIFF: Unmistaken Child

By Richard Lam

(Eau Claire, Sat., Sept. 26 at 12:00 p.m.)

According to Buddhist teachings, all Tibetan masters — known as Lamas — are reincarnated to guide their followers toward enlightenment. For 700 years, Tibetans have sought their reincarnated masters. Unmistaken Child spans four years, charting the search for the reincarnation of Geshe Lama Konchog, who died in October 2001.

His greatest disciple of 21 years, Geshe Tenzin Zopa, is charged with the task of tracking down the master’s new form. The film opens with Geshe-La’s cremation funeral, where the direction of the smoke and the patterns in the ashes are seen as clues, pointing Tenzin where to look.

For years, Tenzin travels from village to village, inquiring about recently born children. He meets them, shows them rosaries and other artifacts belonging to Geshe-La and continues, guided only by his instinct. Throughout this journey, Tenzin lacks confidence in his abilities, and questions his worth as a disciple.

Director Nati Baratz is unobtrusive and doesn’t ask questions — he simply films everything he sees. With this approach we are allowed a privileged glimpse into an astonishing journey, but no insight as to the customs, traditions and meaning of this culture. This also makes the film completely neutral, allowing the viewer to decide their own stance when a child is believed to be the reincarnated Geshe-La then whisked away from his family for a life of service.

The film is slow, but absolutely fascinating in its beauty and its heartbreak.

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