Directed by Michael LeBlanc and Joshua Reichmann
Written by Tenzin Choekyi, Norbu Dhundup, Tenzin Kelsang, Salden Kunga, Chemi Lhamo and Yeshi Tenzin
Starring Tenzin Kelsang
Classification N/A; 72 minutes
Opens in select theatres March 17
Last week, March 10, marked the 64th annual Tibetan Uprising Day, a commemoration of the 1959 rebellion against China’s presence in Tibet, which led to a violent crackdown and the exile of the Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso. The day was honoured by people around the world, including those in the Little Tibet enclave in Toronto’s west-end neighbourhood of Parkdale – a tightly knit community that has never been truly seen on the screen until now, thanks to the release of the new film Tenzin.
An elliptical drama that aims to conjure a mood rather than tell a story, the film from co-directors Michael LeBlanc and Josh Reichmann follows an isolated, struggling soul named Tenzin (Tenzin Kelsang) making his way through Parkdale. Between working a job on the scuzzy tow-truck beat and trying to reconnect with a lover, Tenzin feels like a failure, especially given how he is living in the shadow of his older brother, who died by self-immolation during a Tibetan independence protest.
There are many intriguing elements operating in the margins of Tenzin, most focused on documenting the real people who make up Little Tibet, and exploring their very real struggles. LeBlanc, who is also the film’s director of photography, has a curious and roving eye that has a knack for catching moments at their most unexpectedly beautiful, crystallizing them in cinematic amber. And Colin Stetson’s score is pulsing, pounding and intense, locking you into the headspace of a man in a spiral.
But too much of Tenzin feels held together by the thinnest of wires, from its looping and meandering screenplay (a collaborative effort written by the directors and cast) to its regrettably shaky performances. Eventually, an overwhelming realization arrives: This is a well-intentioned short film unfairly inflated to just barely feature-length territory. By the time that several inevitable, highly telegraphed moments arrive – including Tenzin’s confrontation with his deplorable, vaguely criminal boss – the film has depleted its energies, ambitions and sense of purpose.
Toronto’s Little Tibet deserves its big moment in the spotlight. But Tenzin’s glow is ultimately too dim, flickering on and off until it simply fades.