“Travellers and Magicians” is a film of unexpected charm. I knew very little about it before entering the theater and was honestly feeling slightly detached when the film began. However, not too far into the film, I began to feel myself relating to the foreign story. Soon I realized that while “Travellers and Magicians” is a foreign language film, the ideas are very close to home.
Written and directed by Khyentse Norbu, “Travellers and Magicians” is the first movie to be filmed entirely in Bhutan. It is the second film made by Norbu, a lama and a member of one of Bhutan’s most noble families. His first film, “The Cup” (1999), is a story about young boys training to be monks who love soccer and are determined to see the upcoming World Cup match. The film was an international success. In “Travellers and Magicians,” Norbu explores similar cultural themes.
The film follows Dondup (Tshewang Dendup), a restless man who decides that he will be better in the United States than in his small village. He sets out, in an “I heart NY” T-shirt, with boom box in hand, ready to go to America. He struggles to find a bus and must hitchhike to get out of the village. Along the way he meets up with an apple picker, a monk, a paper maker and his beautiful daughter, Sonam (Sonam Lhamo).
The odd troupe is quite charming and often very funny. The cast is comprised of entirely amateur actors, which makes their performances even more respectable. They are convincing in their roles and it is fun to watch as they travel together across the beautiful countryside.
As they travel along, the monk (Sonam Kinga) tells the story of a young man who is very similar to Dondup. His name is Tashi (Lhakpa Dorji) and he too is tired of what he believes to be a boring village. The fable is told in parts and it parallels many of the same feelings that Dondup is experiencing.
“Travellers and Magicians” is a beautifully shot film. The location is spectacular and Norbu highlights its beauty with his direction. The monk’s story is told with a chilling surrealism. A green forest will have a blue hue; a white horse will seem to glow. The entire film is very mystical and sometimes even magical enough to take your breath away.
“Travellers and Magicians” is a film about place and about finding out where we belong. It is able to avoid clich?s and instead focus on truth and the lack of clarity that is often present in our emotions. It is about people and the connections that we make with one another, even if just for a short while. “Travellers and Magicians” is an enchanting film and though I had difficulty getting into it, I hated to see it end.