A Welcome Escape From City Living | Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom
I find Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom a surprisingly hard animal to quantify (is that a pun? Well if it is, it’s probably not worth calling attention to). While this Bhutanese drama initially follows the narratives of a city slicker in the wilderness, a hopeless teacher who wants to do nothing less than teach – think Northern Exposure by way of To Sir, With Love, The Mighty Ducks, or any number of movies – something happens along the way which complicates this framing. Do I know what that something is? I’m not quite sure.
The feature directorial debut by writer and director Pawo Choyning Dorji, Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom follows Ugygen (Sherab Dorji), a young unenthusiastic teacher with aspirations of becoming a singer, who is posted to the most remote school in Bhutan, high in the Himalayan mountains. Initially dismayed by the lack of technology he encounters in the tiny rural village, he soon becomes determined to introduce new educational methods to the young villagers. As he learns more about their customs, stories and most of all their music he begins to reconsider where his future will lead.
Unlike many other films Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom reminded me of, the focus is not so much on chaotic attempts and embarrassing failures for our hopeless teacher as it is on a gradual upward learning curve as he becomes more acquainted with the villagers and their way of life, much like the Ugygen’s initial six day journey hiking up the mountains to Lunana. And indeed, Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom is as much about coming to appreciate and respect the environment as it is about a teacher’s personal narrative. It doesn’t end with a sense of personal or indeed even communal closure as usually seen in the genre: Ugygen is not able to solve all the villagers’ problems, nor is he able to prevent the global warming which means the snow is gradually receding from the mountainside year on year.
The cast is comprised mainly of locals from the region of Lunana, and is full of wonderful musical performances that play a key role in the film’s storytelling. Jigme Tenzing’s cinematography is breathtaking, thanks to the remote and mostly untouched areas of Bhutan explored in the film’s unhurried narrative.
Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom is a gentle understated take on a familiar narrative which is given its own distinctive flair, weaving in strands of local knowledge and a definite sense of place. It’s no surprise that the feature won Bhutan its first ever Academy Award nomination, functioning as an enticing invitation to explore this little-known country.
Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom will have its Irish release on the 10th of March 2023.