Published Feb 01, 2005Travellers And Magicians is The Alchemist (backpackers' "follow your destiny" bible) meets The Straight Story (David Lynch's lawnmower road movie). Dondup, a young government officer, leaves his Bhutanese village for opportunity in America. A Buddhist monk he meets along the way tells him, "Be careful with dreamlands, when you wake up it might be unpleasant." To illustrate his point, he tells the story of Tashi, a young student of sorcery who had fallen victim to the same illusions of greener grass. As the story progresses, Dondup rethinks his plans, especially when the beautiful Sonam joins them. Will Dondup return to village life or keep going to America?
Travellers' flashbacks can be trying the first look back takes us away from the main narrative for so long that the return trip is jarring. But halfway through the film something ticks over and your mind adjusts to the transitions. Norbu's use of non-actors (as he did in his previous film The Cup) gives the film a strong sense of realism, as do the stunning backdrops of his native Bhutan. Then there are the perfect little touches: Dondup's "I Love New York" T-shirt, the game of archery that opens the film (highlighting Dondup's "taking aim" at his dream) and Dondup's attempts to drown out his surroundings with his portable stereo.
Travellers And Magicians' modest budget shows, though once the second act begins the spirit of the narrative effectively eclipses any visual shortcomings the film might have. The "actors" steep their scenes with inexperience and naivety, infusing Travellers with a humanity that professionals might have lost with the artifice of craft. (Capri)