LUNANA: A Yak In The Classroom- Bhutan’s First Ever Oscar Nomination Is Well Deserved
Directed by Pawo Choyning Dorji
Stars: Sherab Dorji, Ugyen Norbu Lhendup, Keldon Lhamo Gurung, Kunzang Wangdi, and Pem Zam
This little movie out of one of the happiest countries on the planet, that I’m pretty sure no Oscar pundit had on their ballots. Shocked the world on February 8th, when they snuck into the Best International Feature Film nominations. Making it the first time in history that Bhutan will have an Oscar nominee. So I decided it was time to venture out and see Pawo Choyning Dorji’s dark horse that snuck it’s way into the most presitigous awards ceremony.
A young teacher in modern Bhutan, Ugyen, shirks his duties while planning to go to Australia to become a singer. As a reprimand, his superiors send him to the most remote school in the world, a glacial Himalayan village called Lunana, to complete his service.
A drama based around the most remote school in the world, Lunana: A Yak In The Classroom features some of the most naturally beautiful locations for a film. As Ugyen goes on this long journey to the school and village, he passes forests, rivers, and the Himalayas themselves- all untouched by man, left in their natural beautiful state. As he reaches the village, we see that their homes and school are aged- as if while the rest of mankind moved forward these peaceful people were left behind, happily content with the life and fellowship they have in the village. The clouds around the Himalaya’s make for some of the most breathtaking shots- things that bigger budget directors could only dream to shoot.
On a story basis, the story is nothing overtly elaborate. Which it doesn’t have to be, there’s nothing wrong with a simplistic story that hits the marks they intend to hit. The Klaus vibes instantly hit for me, as Ugyen is this unreliable worker thats sent to a distant remote place- and finds out he can have an affect on the children of the village. As Ugyen learns from the children’s passion to learn and grow even in their remote part of the world, his passion for teaching is ignited in a way that he could never imagine. As well, the respect that he is shown by all the people of the Lunana Village is so humbling for the young man- who is taken aback by the respect and treatment he’s given. The scripts charm is tenfold, and one can’t help but admire the way that the village teaches Ugyen as much as he teaches the villages children. There’s also some really powerful hints at wider topics such as climate change throughout the film, showing us that even in their isolation- the people of Lunana are unaware of the impacts our choices are having on them.
The cast is as charming as the film itself. Sherab Dorji is an incredibly charming lead actor and one that deserves to get some North American looks, he has the looks and the skill to carve out a perfect career. While, Ugyen Norbu Lhendup is the scene stealer as the village’s handyman and second in command Michen- who has this uniquely positive view on life, something that appears to be extremely common in the nation of Bhutan. The children are all played by the villages actual kids, meaning none of them have acting experience- yet they all thrived in the roles they were given. Pem Zam herself might be one of the most adorable child actors that has appeared in film in the past few years.
There may not be as many heavy topics covered as their competitors, nor will there be as many people watching this one- but Lunana: A Yak In The Classroom well earned its Oscars nomination, and deserves to be watched by a wide audience just to see the unique world that the citizens of Bhutan live in.