IN SEARCH OF KUNDUN is a behind the scenes look at the making of Martin Scorseseís film about the early life of the Dalai Lama, KUNDUN. In it we learn of Scorseseís early fascination with Tibet, which sprang from a cheesy Hollywood flick called STORM OVER TIBET It wasnít the story or the overwrought back lot shots of a Tibet that never was that hooked young Marty. It was the documentary footage, actually filmed in Tibet in the 30s that captured his imagination with black and white images that never left him. Images he would finally recreate almost fifty years later.
The film shows the sublime and the ridiculous when it comes to making movies. Scorsese muses on his responsibility in portraying the Dalai Lamaís story and wonders if horses have more than one take in them. There are the vicissitudes of working on location in Morocco, where he was forced to film when the Indian permits didnít come through. Interestingly, many of the locations are the same ones he had used while filming THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST a decade earlier. You just canít help thinking about the wonder of serendipity.
What I found most illuminating, though, was a pre-production story told by KUNDUN's screenwriter, Melissa Mathison. After clearing the project with the Dalai Lama, who accepted the idea with his usual compassion and good cheer, Mathison met with producers who were aghast at her insistence that the script be sent to Scorsese. ďRAGING BULL Scorsese?Ē they asked as their jaws dropped, obviously not getting how compassionate that story is towards its subject and then making the leap that the Dalai Lama is all about compassion. The interlude does help to explain the lack of imagination that leads to the dreck being turned out by Hollywood.
Thereís also watching Scorsese directing. Okay, he knows thereís a camera on him, you canít help but wonder if he isnít playing up just a bit, but that possibility makes it all the more fascinating. And who cares once he starts discussing his inspiration he derived from De Sica and Satyijat Ray for directing a child god-king as a real kid or starts playing like a kid himself on one of the sumptuous sets?
Thereís also the chance to watch and listen to Tibetans in exile portraying and discussing the events in the film, as well as the Dalai Lamaís comments on the proceedings, filmed separately. He didnít actually visit the set. The film itself is shot beautifully, no hand-held cameras here, and there are all those KUNDUN sets as backdrops. IN SEARCH OF KUNDUN shows what itís like to make a film thatís envisioned as something more than just a way to make a quick buck. Itís almost enough to cure this reviewerís cynicism.