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Unmistaken Child - Movie Review - 2008

Tibetan Buddhists Search for the Reincarnation of A Lama

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Unmistaken Child - Movie Review - 2008

Unmistaken Child - Tenzin Zopa

Oscilloscope Films
Filmmaker Nati Baratz's Unmistaken Child provides a rare and intimate look at the processes and rituals observed by Tibetan Buddhists as they seek to find the reincarnation of a recently deceased Lama.

Observing Centuries-Old Traditions

When Geshe Lama Konghog, a revered rinpoche, died in 2001, the Buddhist hierarchy initiated a search to find his embodiment in a newborn child, according to a centuries-old tradition and precise practices that involve reading signs revealed in the cremation of the deceased and the interpretations of astrologers. Following the signs and interpretations, Tenzin Zopa, a 28 year old Nepalese monk who’d been Geshe Lama Konghog's disciple for 21 years, was dispatched to Nepal’s the isolated Tsum Valley region to find a boy between the ages of one and one-and-a-half years who recognized the rosary that belonged to the Lama and claimed it as his own.

After a four year search, Tenzin Zopa finds the Unmistaken Child and takes him to Keplu Monastery where other Lamas verify his identity. Once confirmed, the child is taken from his family, who willingly let him go, renamed Phuntsok Rinpoche by the Dalai Lama and ensconced in the Buddhist monastic domain for training and to assume his role in guiding humankind to enlightenment.

A Fantastic Reality

This documentary recounts an amazing real life story that has all the elements of an exotic and enthralling fantasy feature. It has compelling and absolutely charming characters engaged in a quest that, for them, has profound meaning. We see Tenzin Zopa become a gentle and loving teacher to the young Lama, who is a most unusual and brilliant little boy who miraculously embraces the responsibilities of his new station in life.

Skillful Filmmaking Supports The Story

With exquisite cinematography, Unmistaken Child takes you to remote and unfamiliar locales where village people live as they have for centuries, in rustic homes without ’conveniences,’ in clan-like communities. The villagers wear traditional tribal costumes, the monks wear saffron-colored robes and hats, and everyone wears tennis shoes. We see arriving helicopters setting brilliantly colored prayer flags to fluttering and we hear the strange and alluring sounds of chanting, horns and symbols as they echo through the mountains.

In short, the film takes us to a place where time has, seemingly, stood still. In fact, in presenting this chapter of Buddhist history, Unmistaken Child’s director, Nati Baratz, doesn't reference or examine the political context in which the tradition and rituals are carried out. And one can’t help but be curious about how the film’s makers and subjects feel about this idyllic region’s ongoing struggle for independence from Chinese influence.

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Film Details:

  • Unmistaken Child - 2008
  • Unmistaken Child Trailer
  • Director: Nati Baratz
  • US Theatrical Release Date: June 3, 2009 (limited)
  • Running Time: 102 mins.
  • Parental Advisory: Content advisory for parents
  • Location: Nepal
  • Language: English, Nepali, Hindi, Tibetan, with English subtitles
  • Production Country: Israel
  • Production Company: Samsara Films
  • Distribution Company: Oscilloscope Films
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