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Khyentse Norbu

2016 || Bhutan || 96 mins || Feature


Hanway Films


Locarno 2016 – Open Doors
Toronto 2016 – Platforms – Winner – Special Mention – “For a film that is a metaphor for our time. In an age of technology, this film uses masks to reconnect its characters with human instinct and emotion.”


Somewhere deep in a forest, there is a secret gathering every twelve years to celebrate anonymity. Masked, the men and women participate in ancient rituals and dances from the full moon to the new moon. The large group has been specifically chosen by old leader Agay, but his reasons remain mysterious. Having given up their identities, the chosen are playful and lascivious in the lush mountain nature.

But not all here is fun and games. There is harsh punishment for those who break the rules, those who succumb to the temptation of letting others know who they are or those who are too curious about others. Cliques form and invite deception, seduction and jealousy.

"Expressionless" attends this festival for the first time. Like a newborn, he stumbles clumsily through his first few days, but quickly adapts. When he spots "Red Wrathful", he becomes intoxicated with desire for her. A desire that will lead him down a dangerous path...

The new film from Bhutanese director Kyentse Norbu (THE CUP, TRAVELLERS AND MAGICIANS, VARA: A BLESSING). Executive produced by Jeremy Thomas (THE LAST EMPEROR, LITTLE BUDDHA).


Tshering Dorji
Sadon Lhamo
Thinley Dorji


Colorful, exotic and mysterious... A philosophical fairytale (the title means “once upon a time”) steeped in the ceremonial traditions of Bhutan... Jigme Temzing’s camera fully exploits the visual potential of the location, certainly one of the film’s best features... there is much in Norbu’s film to ponder on, and even if no definite answer is provided, at least it will occupy the mind for quite a while.


The exoticism of Bhutan and the spiritual philosophy of Buddhism combine with an eerie invented ritual by which masked anonymity allows participants to inhabit a limbo world of the present that excludes the past and future... visually appealing... it’s easy to appreciate the beauty of the forested locale, shot in Bhutan’s south east, at times dappled with sunlight and at others, darkly menacing... Colorful masks add to the eye’s pleasure even while creating a deliberately frustrating barrier.

— Jay Weissberg, VARIETY