Little Budha (1994) B
Having swept the Oscars in 1987 for “The Last Emperor,” Bernardo Bertolucci enjoyed for several years the freedom to choose and finance smaller pictures.
In this rather intimate, modest-scale family tale, Bertolucci attempts to mix Buddhist spirituality with childhood fantasy, juxtaposing past and present, history and modernism.
When Dean Conrad (Chris Isaak), a Seattle architect, comes home from work one day, he finds two robed Buddhist monks sitting in his living room talking with his wife Lisa (Bridget Fonda). Who are they? Why are there at his house?
Guided, or rather haunted, by disturbing dreams and nightmares, the monks have traveled from Nepal to Seattle because they believe that the Conrad’s ten-year-old son, Jesse (Alex Wiesendanger) may be the reincarnation of a legendary Buddhist mystic.
The Conrads, who consider themselves to be rational human beings, are initially skeptical, particularly when the monks want to take their son back to Bhutan with them. But after Dean’s partner commits suicide, Dean has a religious awakening (“I’ve been doin’ some thinkin’,” he says) and permits Jesse to go away with the monks.
Then the Lama Norbu (Ruocheng Ying) gives Jesse a children’s book about the Buddha Siddhartha (Keanu Reeves). Siddhartha leads a sheltered life until he comes upon a couple of beggars who introduce him to poverty and hunger.
After this revelation, Siddhartha decides that it is his destiny to relieve humanity from pain, anguish, and suffering.
Going back to the present time, Jesse is now knowledgeable about the basis of Buddhism. Much to Jesse’s and his father’s surprise, however, they find that there are two other children at Bhutan who show signs of being the reincarnated Buddhist mystic.
This kind of text, co-written by Bertolucci and Rudy Wurlitzer, doesn’t bring out his forte as a probing director and supreme craftsman, and his heart is not in it (the film lacks lyricism and is too heavy-handed).
While perfectly watchabe, “Little Budha” is not one of Bertolucci’s strongest films, but it has enough merits (including a gorgeous looking Reeves, which at one point is wrapped in a golden lame gown).
Running time: 123 Minutes.
Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci
Screenplay: Bernardo Bertolucci, Rudy Wurlitzer.
Released: May 25, 1994 Wide
DVD: April 3, 2001
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