Born Again: Unmistaken Child offers a peak into Buddhism’s take on reincarnation.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
With striking images of Nepal’s remote Tsum Valley and a compelling central character attempting to complete a task that he believes is beyond his abilities, Unmistaken Child, a documentary about a disciple’s search for his reincarnated master, will appeal to even those skeptical Westerners who do not buy into Buddhism’s beliefs about rebirth.
Directed by Israeli filmmaker Nati Baratz, Unmistaken Child begins with Tenzin Zopa reeling from the death of his mentor Lama Konchog, who was one of the most well respected Tibetan masters at the time of his death in 2001. Lama Konchog’s disciple and attendant for the past 21 years, Zopa has no idea what to do with himself without his master’s gentle guidance.
But, a series of signs appear in the ashes following Lama Konchog’s cremation ceremony – including the discovery of pearl relics and what appears to be a footprint pointed east – suggest that the master may have been reincarnated. Knowing that no one knew Konchog better than Zopa, a high-up Buddhist chooses the young man in mourning to locate the approximately one and a half year old child who is supposed to be the reincarnated Lama Konchog.
When told of his mission, Zopa is overwhelmed by the importance and magnitude of his task. “I just cannot trust my feelings,” he says. “I’m not Buddha.”
With the help of an astrologer, Zopa receives a couple of important clues that will help him identify his reincarnated mentor. One is that the child will have a father whose name begins with an “A.” The other piece of information is that the baby was born in Nepal’s Tsum Valley.
Then, for Zopa, it’s off to the remote region of northern Nepal, which is adjacent to the country’s border with Tibet. Below jade green mountains frequently obscured by a mist that hangs around like incense smoke, the disciple wanders through a valley, which is home to remote villages and rock walls that protrude from the valley floor like oversized seams, investigating the region’s exceptional children and seeing whether any of them recognize a rosary that used to belong to his former mentor.
It’s a testament to Baratz’s abilities as a storyteller that he sees no need for his filmmaking team to insert themselves into the proceedings.
Besides a few notes at the start of the film explaining some Buddhist beliefs, Unmistaken Child is presented with a minimum of exposition or intrusion on the part of the filmmakers. This cinema verite approach allows the viewer to watch this miraculous story unfold naturally.
Needless to say, the film’s title is a bit of a spoiler. But the discovery of the possibility of the reincarnated master is only one of the stirring stories about rebirth depicted in Unmistaken Child. Just as important – and probably easier to digest for Western audiences – is the second life and newfound confidence that Zopa discovers by undertaking such an incredible journey.
UNMISTAKEN CHILD (3½) Directed by Nati Baratz • Starring Tenzin Zopa, Lama Konchog and the Dalai Lama • Not rated • 102 min. • At the Osio Cinemas.