Kundun - B
Viewed January 3, 1998 at Sony Lincoln Square

Martin Scorsese's visually and aurally spectacular Kundun, despite being a hagiography of the 14th and current Dalai Lama, reflects his Catholicism more than any film since Last Temptation Of Christ. The strong use of red, yellows, and purples, the emphasis on the ritual ceremonies of Tibetan Buddhism and diplomatic exchange, the chantlike quality of Phillip Glass's score -- all call to mind the ceremonial framework of a Catholic Mass with priests in their robes and chants of "Kyrie Eleison". The formal and stiff quality of the acting only strengthens this impression, reminding one of Passion plays and Christmas pageants. Clearly Scorsese wants to impart the same meditative state that he, perhaps, feels during Mass and imply a common bond between Tibetan Buddhism (which is foreign to the vast majority of Americans, including me) and Christianity.

And therein lies the problem. I find Catholic Mass dull as dirt (one of the many reasons I'm an ex-Catholic), and while Kundun is nowhere near as butt-and-mind- numbing as a typical homily, it too often boils down to being not much more than a pretty show -- Scorsese lays the emotional power of the film almost solely on Glass's score. His work in this film is brilliant (I haven't had much exposure to him before) but that's a lot to ask of one's score.

Which is not to say that Kundun is a bad movie. Its visuals are worth the price of a ticket alone (and only a first-rate theater will do this film justice), and there are several scenes that manage to break through the solemnity and grab you by the throat -- the dream-image of the Lama standing in a vast field of dead monks, the building and sweeping away of a Tibetan sand painting, the spontaneous exuberance of the Lama as a toddler.