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The Silent Holy Stones, April 23

49th San Francisco International Film Festival at PFA

Sunday, April 23, 2006
4:00 p.m. The Silent Holy Stones
Wanma-caidan (China, 2005)

(Lhing vjags kyi ma ni rdo vbum). "Will you please plead with the Master of Scripture, Your Holiness, so that we may watch TV for a while?" So goes much of the surprisingly incongruous dialogue of The Silent Holy Stones, a Chinese-produced film tracing the intermingling of native Tibetan culture with the influence of the outside world. Winner of China's national film award for best directorial debut, director Wanma-caidan's serene document of daily Tibetan life challenges the idealized perception of remote mysticism that the region has borne for generations. The film follows a young lama, assigned to attend to the seven-year-old Living Buddha of a mountain monastery. Much of the "little lama's" day is spent attending to his monastic duties, but in his free time he works to get access to the Living Buddha's television. Restricted by his responsibilities and the influence of his master, the lama becomes preoccupied with the sights and sounds of electronic media. When he visits his native village for a New Year's celebration and discovers a new TV in his family's home, the lama's fixation begins to distract him from his duties to the temple and his community. Despite the intensity of contrast between the religious and secular, the ancient and contemporary, The Silent Holy Stones never escalates the tension to the level of contrived narrative conceit. Helmed by an experienced native director and strengthened by nonprofessional local actors and startlingly beautiful locations, The Silent Holy Stones has the immediacy of a documentary, delivering real insight into the evolution of a much-romanticized culture.

—Aaron Lazenby

• Written by Wanma-caidan. Photographed by Du Jie. With Danpei Lama, Quhuancang Buddha, Quesai, Sanmu-dan. (102 mins)