Yaks are very important in Lunana.  The freezing city dweller Ugyen (Sherab Dorji) uses the manure of his new pet for heating.

13.01.2022 20:30 731

“Lunana”: A yak takes part in the class in this school!

By Sophie Fritschek

Germany – Off to the pampas! In “Lunana: Happiness is in the Himalayas” a life-hungry teacher ends up against his will in the most remote school in the world – without running water or paper, but lots of yak dung. The German theatrical release is January 13th. You can read whether this classic feelgood movie is for you in the TAG24 Review.

Yaks are very important in Lunana. The freezing city dweller Ugyen (Sherab Dorji) uses the manure of his new pet for heating. © ARP Distribution

Being a teacher: a job or a calling? For the young Bhutanese Ugyen (Sherab Dorji), the latter is far from the truth. He is a capital city dweller in a cool leather jacket and dreams of making a great career as a musician in Australia. What is just holding him back is the last year that he has to tear down as a civil servant without motivation in order not to break his contract.

His supervisor notices that this happens with a bang and sends him to Lunana (translated: “dark valley”), to a village school that is so remote that you have to hike there for eight days. Ugyen’s altitude sickness does not apply to Bhutanese.

The shepherd Michen (Ugyen Norbu Lhendup) welcomes him on the trip and brings him as much warmth as the rest of the residents of Lunana, but Ugyen stubbornly isolates himself and just wants to go home. An outside toilet at almost 5000 meters above sea level ?! No thank you!

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Only the inquisitive schoolchildren like little Pem Zam (Pem Zam) slowly do it to him, he is not immune to the rugged beauty of the mountains – nor to the music that pervades the lives of miners. The talented musician Saldon (Kelden Lhamo Gurung) is not only connected by his passion for singing.

But time is working against Ugyen’s burgeoning quiet happiness, because with the onset of winter, his visa for Australia flutters through the door …

German trailer for “Lunana” by director Pawo Choyning Dorji

There are no big surprises, but a lot of charm

You immediately get wanderlust: Pawo Choyning Dorji has made a brilliant visual directorial debut with such images.

You immediately get wanderlust: Pawo Choyning Dorji has made a brilliant visual directorial debut with such images. © ARP Distribution

If the German title has not yet helped you, you will notice it at the latest when you see the trailer – of course, this is a feel-good movie! In any case, “Lunana” doesn’t make a secret out of it. The children, all of primary school age, all behave so nicely that you can’t help but melt together with Ugyen. Does that always correspond to reality? Maybe – especially in a village where education is a rare commodity.

Wherever compromises can be made with regard to the predictability of certain scenes, the breathtaking beauty of the Himalayas and the camera work come even more to the fore. Here one notices Pawo Choyning Dorji’s background as a writer and photographer, skillfully weaving both linguistic and painterly poetry into his directorial and screenplay debut.

In addition, “Lunana” tells a clear, well-timed story and draws all characters down to the smallest secondary character in a very sensitive way. Particularly touching: the hostel operator, who cannot afford shoes, together with his small child who hops around in tiny rubber boots. For all of them, the longing for happiness is in the foreground.

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As the director himself says, “Lunana” is also a reflection of the present, because even in what is supposedly the happiest country in the world, young Bhutans are drawn to faraway places and thus far away from their families.

International trailer for “Lunana: Happiness is in the Himalayas” with Sherab Dorji and Kelden Lhamo Gurung

Strong cast with many laypeople from the real Lunana

Strong!  The nine-year-old Pem Zam not only comes from Lunana, she also embodies her figure of the same name with great feeling ... and big eyes.

Strong! The nine-year-old Pem Zam not only comes from Lunana, she also embodies her figure of the same name with great feeling … and big eyes. © ARP Distribution

Leading actor Sherab Dorji actually wanted to emigrate to Australia to pursue his dream of a music career, but decided against it. As the protagonist, he is consistently convincing, from the sulky, technology-spoiled city dweller to the village teacher without blackboard or paper, who is going through an amazing change and making “Lunana” a coming-of-age film somewhere.

The attention to detail that Pawo Choyning Dorji and his crew have put into this work is impressive. “Lunana” was actually filmed in the completely isolated glacier village of the same name, only with electricity from solar-charged batteries. Many of the leading roles were cast by some of the 58 residents who have never left their village. With so many laypeople who, despite or perhaps because of that, make their characters so likeable, Pawo Choyning Dorji has succeeded in a real stroke of luck.

“Lunana” is a film that doesn’t reinvent the wheel in plot terms, but convinces with strong acting, breathtaking images and a certain warmth of feeling. Just the thing for cold winter days!

Title photo: ARP Distribution

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