Far removed from the Western imagery of a dreamlike Shangri-La mythologized by years of political seclusion, The Search takes the viewer straight into the heart of new Tibet. This charming second feature by Pema Tseden (Wan Ma Cai Dan) is the first ever to be shot entirely in Tibet and in the Tibetan language by a local crew. It is a road movie and an expedition in search of a disappearing culture.
The Search is also a film within a film. We follow a director and his crew as they roam along a shadowy valley at the foot of barren hills, searching in small villages, remote monasteries, dusty towns, gaudy nightclubs and high-school gymnasiums. They are on the hunt for an actor and an actress who can play the complex roles of Prince Drimé Kunden and Princess Mande Zangmo in an adaptation of a popular traditional Tibetan opera. A previous incarnation of Buddha, Prince Drimé Kunden is the virtuous symbol of charity and selflessness, a man who gave away all his possessions – including wife and children – to those who needed them. Once upon a time, the lyrics of the opera were known to everybody, but now the search to find somebody who can remember the story of the compassionate prince, let alone perform it, proves difficult.
Then one day, the melodious voice of a peasant girl casts a spell over the crew. Though she is strikingly beautiful, she prefers to hide behind a colourful scarf. She is the perfect choice for Princess Mande Zangmo. She agrees to join the long journey in search of a candidate to play Prince Drimé Kunden on the condition that she will be taken to see her former boyfriend and opera-singing partner, who has abandoned their native village to become a high-school teacher in a distant town.
Directing a cast of non-professional actors with easy grace, Pema Tseden has created a very personal style. Like a modern tanka, or intricate ceremonial Buddhist tapestry, The Search is a detailed picture of contemporary Tibet that evokes the region’s unique cultural identity through a meditative aesthetic. —tiff.net