Entertainment » Movies

The Sweet Requiem

by Sam Cronin
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Jul 15, 2019
'The Sweet Requiem'
'The Sweet Requiem'  

"The Sweet Requiem" is the second dramatic feature film by Directors Ritu Sarin & Tenzing Sonam. It tells the story of a Tibetan refugee, Dolkar (Tenzin Dolker), who lives in Delhi, India. While there, she is confronted by an important figure from her past, Gompo (Jampa Kalsang). The movie takes us back through her memories and slowly reveals the story of her and Gompo's complicated past trekking through the Himalayan mountain ranges to escape into India.

"The Sweet Requiem" does a great job using the drama of Dolkar's escape into India to tell a very human story, all against a backdrop of political consciousness for the struggle of Tibetan refugees in real life. The mentions of self-immolations by Tibetan activists disturbed me as much as they did Dolkar in the movie. I left wanting to research and learn more about the strained relations between Tibet and China, which seems to have been a goal of the directors.

Additionally, it's not your average reunion story, where the main character is reintroduced to someone from their past and finds love or reignites a relationship. The connection between Dolkar and Gompo is more nuanced than that, and is refreshingly unique.

The cast is talented, especially Dolkar and Kalsang, who themselves are both Tibetan refugees. Dolkar makes her acting debut in "The Sweet Requiem," and proves herself to be capable of both stoic and emotive acting. Kalsang - who appeared previously in Sarin and Sonam's first feature, "Dreaming Lhasa" - provides a strong professional performance, and his acting experience grounds the movie.

The use of flashbacks to move story beats is skillful, which is a testament to the directors' style and professionalism. The revelations around how Dolkar and Gompo know each other, and why Dolkar is so obsessed with following him, keeps the suspense up over the course of the movie. The story flows well, if a little slowly, and overall doesn't trip over itself. The plot weaves together past and present in a way that belies the movie's small budget.

Another strong point of "The Sweet Requiem" is the sound design, done by composer Michael Montes. The use of unsettling music to underscore dramatic tension is effective, and serves to build anxiety in the audience as it builds in Dolkar. Additionally, the use of minimal added sound during the flashbacks trekking through the mountains serve to ground the scenes. The ambient sounds of wind rushing and feet crunching in the snow make those sequences feel isolated and the environments seem huge and unforgiving.

One weak point is the dialogue, which at times is over-explanatory and corny. This may be due to poor translation or captioning, or it may just be a flaw of the writing by Sonam, but either way, many of the conversations feel artificial. They removed me from the movie a bit. At its best, the dialogue establishes genuine connections between the characters and, at its worst, it makes people seem two dimensional.

The strong cinematography makes up for many of the film's shortcomings, however. Director of photography David McFarland and the directors create emotional and poignant scenes which wordlessly augment the depth of the characters. For instance, many scenes use fire as a motif to keep the audience's mind on the disturbing self-immolation of Tibetan activists. In one scene, Dolkar holds her hand over a match to feel a small fraction of the pain those people experienced, flinching after just a few seconds. In another, a brilliant match-cut literally turns a shot of Dolkar into a close up shot of a match. Scenes like this serve to further connect Dolkar and the audience to the plight of the refugees.

All in all, "The Sweet Requiem" is a true art piece, telling a grounded, human story and raising political awareness for a crisis that is still going on today in Tibet. The complex storyline, weaving together past and present and delaying explanations until the climax, keeps the audience engaged. The spectacular setpieces, filmed on location in the Himalayas and in Delhi, create the perfect contrasting backdrop to tell the story of Dolkar's traumatic past and her conflicted present.

Most importantly, the movie sparked an interest in me to learn about Tibet, and that's the best thing a politically-minded dramatic piece like this can do. I'd heartily recommend this to anyone with an interest in the plight of Tibetan refugees, or anyone interested in solid independent cinema.

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