Lunana: A Yak In The Classroom

#Review: Lunana: A Yak In The Classroom

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Lunana: A Yak In The Classroom is a story that comes off the page as well-worn and easily familiar. A young teacher/mentor gets assigned a group of students somewhere he doesn’t want to be and over time they start to develop a bond and form friendships. What you don’t get to experience from that curt synopsis though is the nuanced charm of this story, the serene beauty of the village of Lunana or the gentle spirit of its infectiously warm inhabitants. 

Writer/director Pawo Choyning Dorji trekked an entire film crew through the Bhutan landscape for eight days to reach “the most remote school in the world” where the disgruntled Ugyen has been sent to fill a teaching vacancy after deciding he wants to leave his coveted government job. With a year left on his contract though, he must postpone his plans of emigration and travel with a pair of village guides to the isolated Lunana where much of his home comforts are far beyond his reach.

Although pretty formulaic for the genre, Ugyen’s slowly burgeoning appreciation for the village and his students is lent an air of authenticity given the fact that many of the cast are genuine highlanders from the region and the hardships depicted are indeed an accurate account of life in the remote regions. What makes this endearing film stand above a lot of its contemporaries is its unhurried pace, an understanding that the journey itself is just as important as the lessons we learn at the end.

Whether it’s spending time traversing a mountainous path with village guide Michen or succumbing to the sweetness of Pem Zam’s enthusiasm to be educated, Ugyen starts to gain respect for the spirit of the villagers and the way they embrace life in spite of all their daily hardships. 

Lunana: A Yak In The Classroom is a good-natured parable about finding contentment and what it means to be happy in an increasingly materialistic world. The lessons learned are well-tread and predictable but the film gives us a fresh look at how that fulfilment can be achieved, wrapped in a story steeped in tradition and rich folklore.  

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