Release Date: March 3rd, 2017
Cast: Emrhys Cooper, Kezang Wangmo, Karma Chedon
Director: Karma Deki
Studio: Dream It Productions/Bhutan Infotainment
Genre(s): Drama, Romance
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Calling all film nerds! You’ve seen Hollywood films, British films, Chinese, Japanese, and Bollywood films.
But have you seen a Bhutanese film? Never even heard of Bhutan? Pull out your maps! The tiny Himalayan country is nestled between Bangladesh, Nepal, and the Tibetan region of China. A country of less than one million people, Bhutanese cinema has existed for less than 20 years. It’s true; the first feature length film was made in 1991.
I would by no means call myself a cinephile, but I was plenty satisfied with the Bhutanese film, Kushuthara – Pattern of Love, which premiered in NYC on March 1st at the Rubin Museum of Art.
The film start British actor Emrhys Cooper as Charlie, an American photojournalist making his way to a small village in Bhutan known for its weaving. Charlie stays at the home of Chomiko and Bumpala, a married couple who call the mountain village home. If you haven’t guessed already, against all odds, Charlie and Chomiko fall in love.
As part of Charlie’s introduction to Bhutan, Chomiko tells him a folk-story. It’s about two lovers named Meto and Phustan, whose story follows a Romeo and Juliet theme. They cannot be together during their lifetimes, so they continue to search for each other in their reincarnated lives. Bhutanese believe in reincarnation and karmic love; what we do in our current lifetimes will affect what happens in our next lifetime.
As it turns out, our star-crossed heroes of old are our star-crossed lovers of the present. Meto and Phustan, destined to be separated in their previous lives, find themselves back together in the forms of married Chomiko and the American Charlie.
Kushuthara has many firsts attached to it. Emrhys Cooper, a quintessential British cool guy, is the first Western actor to star in a Bhutanese film. In addition, it’s the first film to be written, directed, and produced by a woman, Karma Deki. In the talkback following the film, the first Bhutanese female ambassador joined Deki and Cooper onstage.
A film borne of such a young industry is not without its flaws. There are sound issues; I often wondered if the entire film was done over with ADR. There were scenes that were not fully fleshed out, making it difficult to follow. And there’s some gray areas as to how much agency the female characters had.
But Chomiko was a fully realized character, and Kezang Wangmo shines in the role. The East-meets-West, falling-in-love montage was shot like a romantic music video. There was a balance of comedic moments (i.e. Bumpala and friends getting drunk together; Charlie dancing), and dramatic scenes (i.e. Charlie and Chomiko’s moment in the woods; Chomiko and Charlie’s goodbye).
The cinematographer was one of the first people listed in the opening credits and for good reason. The movie is beautifully shot. Each image is a postcard for Bhutan or a promo shot for the film. It’s gorgeous. A part of me wonders if this is because the Bhutanese country side is just that beautiful. I guess I’ll have to go to Bhutan and find out!
Overall, I was impressed. The film is fun, and it gives the perfect glimpse into Bhutan, Bhutanese culture, and Bhutanese cinema. I certainly hope that the “firsts” of this film open up doors for women in Bhutan, as well as more collaborations with Bhutan and Western film.
- The Kingdom in Bhutan measures itself by Gross National Happiness.
- The film is currently released in 150 countries.
- Karma Deki was inspired to write this story after learning to weave from her mother. The film was even shot on location in her mother’s village.
- Emrhys Cooper got involved because his friend was the Tibetan translator to the King of Bhutan.
- Karma Deki started as an actress. In Asia, much like Hollywood, the lifespan of an actress is short. So she decide to switch to directing.
- Emerhys Cooper stated that he is a hopeless romantic and an optimist in people. He believes in karmic love and that sometimes you have to sacrifice for love.