Review by Dan Skip Allen
Coming-of-age films can come in many different shapes and sizes. This year there have been three great foreign films dealing with coming of age stories: The Hand of God from Paolo Sorrentino, The Worst Person in the World starring Renate Reinsve, and Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom. All three have been nominated for the Best International Feature Academy Award this year.
A young man in Bhutan, who lives with his overbearing grandmother, is going to school to be a teacher. He dreams of being a singer, but he has to fulfill his commitment as a teacher first. He is dispatched to a far-off land in the mountains within Bhutan called Lunana to teach a group of children. These children are in dire need of education, and their village brings out the proverbial red carpet for young Ugyen (Sherab Dorji).
He is a huge influence on this town and the children within it, but like any young man his age, he is turned off by the entire situation he was thrust into, including the classroom and lack of supplies he needs to do his job. Like any teacher these days, he needs to improvise and make do with what he has and that's just what he does. The children start to accept him as their teacher and he starts to enjoy being a part of this community.
While he's teaching the children math, English and music, he also learns from them the ways of their people. He meets a young woman and develops a relationship with her. All good coming-of-age films have a good relationship angle in them. This film is no different from the rest in that regard. His skill of singing helps him bridge the gap between the young woman, the children, and the townspeople. This was a nice touch on the script.
The writer/director Pawo Choyning Dorji takes a world and its people within this world and uses familiar tropes of coming-of-age films to craft a uniquely original film. The story about a young man trying to find his place in the world isn't anything new, but from the perspective of the people of Bhutan, it works very well. The young actor who plays the lead character is very good in the role. The young woman, children, and townspeople come across as very authentic. The filmmaking throughout was very good as well.
Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom kept me engaged throughout and had a great message of a man coming of age who needed some direction in his life. The script is very strong in that regard. I can see why this film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best International Feature. People should go seek out this film. It's worth your time and effort to find it. I was very glad I saw it.
Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom is now available on VOD.