Milarepa begins with the joyous birth of Thpaga. His father, a wealthy merchant, holds a privileged place within their small village. But Thpaga's father falls unexpectedly and deathly ill. When he dies, he entrusts his estate and his family to his brother, Gyaltsen (Gonpo), who promises to pass it on to his nephew once Thpaga (Jamyang Lodro, also from The Cup ) is old enough to marry. But what Thpaga's family did not realize was the animosity that Gyaltsen and many of the villagers felt for his father and the family's wealth and privileged position.
Gyaltsen has no intention of passing anything on to Thpaga. In fact, he ends up treating Thpaga, the mother Kargyen (Kelsang Chukie Tethtong) and Thpaga's little sister Peta (Tashi Lhamo) as indentured slaves. This prompts Kargyen to deep bitterness and she urges Thpaga to help her avenge their cruel fate. She send Thpaga to master sorcerer Yongten Trogyal, so that he might acquire the dark skills needed to destroy Gyaltsen and all who stood against them.
Neten Chokling makes his directorial debut with Milarepa (Shining Moon Prod.)
Thpaga masters the black arts and wreaks the destruction his mother desires, but the bloodshed troubles his soul. So Thpaga seeks refuge in a Buddhist temple where an old monk teaches him to cease negative actions, cultivate positive actions and tame your mind.
Neten Chokling recounts the tale of Milarepa with sincere conviction and an eye for the spectacular beauty of the region near the Tibet-Indian border. He employs non-professional actors that display a sincerity and lack of ego that is at times disarming. But their lack of experience combined with Chokling's novice status as a director prevent the film from attaining as much nuance and richness as it might have achieved with some veteran talent in key positions. Yet the lack of sophistication works a spell of its own as the story progresses. Chokling displays promise but has not yet found the kind of artistry that Byambasuren Davaa reveals in her work involving non-professional actors ( The Story of the Weeping Camel, The Cave of the Yellow Dog ). In The Cave of the Yellow Dog, Davaa also managed to expose western audiences to Buddhist thought, but she wove it into her story in a more poetic manner.
In the press materials, Chokling explains why he felt the need to make a film: "You know, Buddha always said, 'Help according to the time and in that moment, whichever way is the best way to help.' Now, times have changed, in that generation, they didnt have movies or anything like that, now we do. Actually our real work is trying to help others in this world, helping all living beings, that's really our work. But how are we going to help? In that time, maybe there were certain ways to do those things, and in this time, there are certain ways to do these things... But I think this film is better than nothing and we have all given our best to this film. If this film inspires just a single person to become more compassionate, tolerant and patient toward others, I will be more than happy. From a Buddhist point of view, this is the most precious gift that we can offer to the world."
Milarepa (rated PG and in Tibetan with English subtitles) serves up a compelling story and offers a message of peace and non-violence in a gently convincing manner.
Companion viewing: The Cup , Cave of the Yellow Dog , Kundun , Seven Years in Tibet