A documentary by Moon Chang-yong and Jeon Jin. In Tibetan, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable
Documentary realism gives way to a kind of unhurried spiritual reverie in Becoming Who I Was. For their first feature of any kind, South Korean filmmakers Moon Chang-yong and Jeon Jin spent years following two subjects through the Ladakh region of northern India and beyond, presumably in hopes that a good story would emerge. It did.
The principal focus here is on Padma Angdu, only five when exiled Tibetan monks anointed him a rinpoche, or reincarnated spirit of a great teacher from the past. When we meet him, at age nine, he’s playing with other schoolboys and doing homework with his mother and three sisters. He likes soccer and Bollywood movies, is good at drawing, and is unusually afraid of firecrackers. There’s no dad on the scene, but he is very attached to his godfather, Urgain, an almost elderly doctor. With serious patience and a ready smile, he has given up his traditional practice to nurture the lad on his way up the holy ladder.
The boy does have a regal bearing at times, and takes well to the learning part. But we don’t really know why Padma was chosen, whose lineage he represents, how Urgain came to join him, or, in the end, why the local monastery eventually gives up on his claim to reheated fame. Urgain sure doesn’t. Because the kid’s predecessor was at the big Buddhist centre at Kham, in Tibet, our maroon-robed heroes eventually set out on an arduous journey across snow-covered mountains, toward the dangerous Chinese-guarded border.
Even that doesn’t go as planned, but viewers learn a lot about our travelling twosome. Freed from rituals and routines, Padma enjoys something like a freewheeling adventure. And we get to enjoy some breathtaking cinematography in elevated climes—sometimes sunny and sometimes blanketed with white—worth visiting, whatever the reason. In the end, we don’t really know what will happen to our travellers at the opposite ends of life. And yet we do.