by Jeff Niesel
For the past month, the Cleveland Museum of Art has hosted a program called "Friday Night First Runs." It features local premieres of movies that have previously bypassed Cleveland during their theatrical runs. Tonight at 7, it's offering a screening of 2007's Angry Monk: Reflections on Tibet, a film about a hard-drinking, deep-thinking monk who was ahead of his time. Here's our review of the film.
Angry Monk: Reflections on Tibet (Switzerland, 2005) Subject of Angry Monk is so compelling it transcends the unimaginative off-the-rack documentary style. Tibet's Gendun Cheophel (1903-1951) was a brilliant and intellectually curious youth, enrolled at a lamasery in Lhasa at a period when Tibetan history and society was stagnant and conservative, ignoring the outside world and its momentous mid-20th-century upheavals of war and revolution. After traveling extensively throughout Tibet to set down the land's history using long-neglected, ancient texts (soon to be destroyed in the Cultural Revolution), Cheophel sallied through Gandhi's India, a country he noted was in the midst of choosing its own destiny and looking toward modernization in a way that Tibet wasn't. Cheophel began writing for a Tibetan-Indian newspaper and also translated Indian literature into written Tibetan, most notoriously, the Kama Sutra. Monkwise, Cheophel was hardly the expected austere, ascetic type. He smoke, drank and whored with gusto. His widow interviewed says he more or less drank himself to an early grave, after having been arrested and imprisoned in Lhasa, charged as a Communist stooge. In fact, Cheophel was trying to warn his countrymen about the ascent of Mao, and he lived just long enough to see his Cassandra-like prophecies come true, as Chinese troops swarmed into Tibet in 1950, sending the Dalai Lama into exile. Ironically-inclined footage in modern Lhasa disclose a Blade Runner-y neon metropolis of tacky bars, video games and devout pilgrims and Chinese settlers taking for granted that this place is rightfully theirs. Tibetan-Buddhist monks continue to be in the forefront of resistance to Chinese occupation, the documentary declares, and the writings and memory of Gendun Choephel have become a rallying-point for their cause of liberation. *** (Charles Cassady Jr.)