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Tashi (Shawn Ku) is a brilliant young lama who has just completed three years of solitary meditation in a remote hermitage. Now returned to his ancient monastery headed by Apo (Sherab Sangey), Tashi experiences a sexual awakening, which makes him question the spiritual values of his monastic existence. Believing he needs to experience worldly existence in order to renounce it, he leaves the monastery and marries Pema (Christy Chung), a beautiful woman he meets while performing a harvest blessing. But although he finds great joy with his wife and newborn son, Tashi is unprepared for other aspects of everyday life such as jealousy of a neighbour, unethical farm trading practices and his attraction to an exotic migrant worker at the harvest, Sujata (Neelesha BaVora), making him re-evaluate his spiritual destiny.

Review by Louise Keller:
It is not surprising to learn that this is the first feature film to be entirely shot in Ladakh, a remote region of India in the majestic Himalayas, where the earth meets the sky at 15,000 feet altitude. Severe climactic conditions and its politically sensitive and inaccessible location make it difficult to access, and as eagles circle high above, the predominately Buddhist community of peasants, monks and hermits live their isolated lives in this ‘last Shangri-La’. Nalin Pan’s dream to make a film that explores desire, destiny and spirituality is realised in Samsara, an engaging story of a young lama, whose need to taste some worldly existence beyond the disciplined walls of the monastery takes him on a journey of epic proportions. Through Tashi’s eyes and heart, we journey from the peaceful but monotonous routine of monastic life to euphoric sexual pleasures and material possessions. These are staggeringly beautiful locations with icing-sugar topped mountains, barren desert and tranquil waters, while a rich and varied score includes ethereal chanting, tinkling bells, celestial sounds and resounding orchestrations from the Bulgarian Symphony. The pace is leisurely, allowing us to understand Tashi’s conflict – from the confines of celibacy and strict mental disciplines to the ecstasy-filled sensual moments shared between man and woman (like the sexually adventurous scene involving a sari hung on a rafter and some dextrous action hanging from it) and survival of the fittest in a dog-eat-dog world. Beautifully shot, Samsara is truly a visual feast. While the film is a little long at 138 minutes, it is a serene and welcome escape from the frantic pace of everyday life offering time to consider the mental challenges proffered. Performances are marvellous, especially Shawn Ku’s Tashi, whose exploration of conscience is transparent, and Christy Chung’s sublime and graceful Penna. Possibly as close to Shangri-La as we will ever get, Samsara is a haunting, cinematic and spiritual love story to savour.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
To Western eyes, Samsara will seem exotic, romantic and spiritually rich. It’s a film of almost Zen-like endurance in its cinematic style and substance - yet it offers a surprisingly Western view of hedonistic humanity. This internal conflict in the film’s ‘soul’ gives it unusual grip on our attention, and the locations provide powerful settings for the internal dramas. The sense of revelation is heightened by the filmmaker’s ability to infiltrate not only the place but the culture of Ladakh, and so the film transports us effortlessly to somewhere unique. That alone offers an unusual experience. Strong sexuality is a surprising element, until we remember the powerful role sex has played in all religions – one way or another. From the extraordinary opening sequence to the ambiguous ending, Samsara is both frustrating and rewarding, funny and dramatic, open and closed, sensuous and serene.

BEST FILM, Melbourne International Film Festival 2002
BEST FEATURE FILM, Brisbane International Film Festival 2002
BEST FEATURE FILM, Faces of Love Film Festival Russia 2002
OFFICIAL SELECTION, Toronto Film Festival 2001
OFFICIAL SELECTION, Sundance Film Festival 2002
OFFICIAL SELECTION, Auckland & Wellington Film Festivals 2002

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CAST: Shawn Ku, Christy Chung, Neelesha BaVora, Lhakpa Tsering, Tenzin Tashi

PRODUCER: Karl Baumgartner, Christoph Friedel


SCRIPT: Nalin Pan, Tim Baker


EDITOR: Isabel Meier

MUSIC: Cyril Morin


RUNNING TIME: 138 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 7, 2002 (Advance screenings November 2, 3, 2002)

LANGUAGE: Tibetan language with English subtitles


VIDEO RELEASE: June 18, 2003 (Also available on DVD)

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