Lunana: Yak in class is Bhutan’s only entry in the series of Asian film festivals in New York in 2020. Typical of the isolated character of his country, photographer and producer Pavo Choining Dorji made his directorial debut in one of the most remote and underdeveloped regions of the world. The story revolves around Huguyen Dorji (Sherab Dorji), an aspiring singer who hoped to settle in Australia but was appointed as a teacher in the civil service for five years. His failure to perform his duties in the capital, Thimphu, was sanctioned by his appointment to the world’s most remote school in the northern village of Lunana. There he begins to understand the value of his work and how it can influence the future of these children as teachers.
The 109-minute film is quite conflict-free and focuses mainly on the heartwarming methods with which Huguyen enriches the lives of the young people in Lunana. So much for Lunana’s story: Yak is in class for a few months, it only takes a few days to make the inevitable decision to stay. After that, the tension is low compared to the ever-increasing reality that he will have to return home. The plot never deviates from its predictable formula, but always manages to stay fun. He moves at a quiet and steady pace, without delaying the actual delivery of Ugyen to the village. Dorji effectively tells his simple story and finds beautiful moments in it. They manage to be both humorous and profound. For example, Ugyen uses dried manure to write lessons until he and his guide Ugyen Norbu Lhendup build their own version of the blackboard and chalk. The gradual transformation of the school from a sterile room to a living room is an acute means of conveying the flow of time and bringing Ugen’s own development to the outside world.
Sherab Dorji gives a solid performance with the material she received, but unfortunately her character was not written with much effort. Ugyen mainly works as a vessel for what a good teacher can bring into the lives of his students. In the beginning he has his own vision of the future and dreams of leaving Bhutan. This can be remedied by taking a closer look at your country instead of focusing on the outside world. Huguen’s bow, from an dishonest outsider to a dedicated teacher, is clearly defined, but it is executed quite quickly when he reaches the village. This left about half of the film without much development. Although Huguyen is certainly going through seismic changes, it’s a pity that he hasn’t gone beyond the decisions we expect of him as an audience.
The nature of Fish on Water movies like Lunana: Yak in class consists of comparing and contrasting different lifestyles. Although many such films tend to follow foreigners travelling to distant countries, it is interesting to see massive lifestyle changes within the same country, especially in a country as small as Bhutan. Throughout the film there are many contrasting moments, such as the way Huguyen starts working with his own technology that allows him to connect to the rest of the world by sending text messages or listening to his iPod, while the children in the village know so little about the rest of the world that they don’t even know what a car is. But Dorji wants to show how music, one of the main motives of the film, works in different lifestyles as a whole. Almost everyone with whom Huguyen shares his passion for singing gives him a personal point of attachment where he thought he wouldn’t find one. So the film is filled with beautiful songs from the village, which have a deeper meaning as the story unfolds.
Bhutan is a land of such supernatural beauty that it will be difficult for a filmmaker who works there to compose a bad film. Behind almost every frame the Himalayan peaks rise, while the clouds roll down over the mountainous landscape. Jigme T. Tenzing’s lens captures beautiful views with striking details and reveals strong and subtle compositions, both in the rustic, well-lit interior of the moon and beyond. His work here and in other Bhutanese productions, such as Tasha Geltshen’s Red Phallus (2018), makes him one of the best cameramen in his country. Lunana’s unique personality is reflected in the authentic occupation of the property and the use of a real village school and other buildings. The entire crew should be congratulated for approaching this difficult shoot with such grace, despite the extremely limited access to electricity and other facilities.
Lunana Pavo Choining Dorji: The yak in class has more to do with his pleasant journey than with his predictable fate. The film Fish in Water is in a sense a symbol of its own themes and shows its unique and simple beauty. Despite the fact that it is far from perfect, she manages to remain fascinated by her soothing immersion in a rare part of the world. This enchanting film leaves both warm feelings in your heart and an amazing amount of knowledge about the versatility of yak fertilizer.