Review: Refuge

There’s no nice way to say this: Refuge is a dull document of a fascinating matter.

Photo: John Halpern

There’s no nice way to say this: Refuge is a dull document of a fascinating matter. For all the verbalization on display throughout the film, it’s amazing how little it gets at. Oliver Stone, Bernardo Bertolucci, the Kundun crew of Martin Scorsese, writer Melissa Mathison, and composer Philip Glass, in addition to an assortment of priests, abbots, and nuns, provide director John Halpern with the interview footage he needs to explain Buddhism and its ever-evolving popularity in the West so generally and impersonally the film brings to mind a religious pamphlet slipped under your door. The big fonts, though, are reserved for Talking With the Dalai Lama, a 27-minute interview Halpern and Les Levine conducted with Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, that will play back-to-back with Refuge at the Quad beginning May 12. In this piece, the footage of the jovial 70-year-old Dalai Lama is unsubtitled and the questions directed at him are presented on black, slip-and-sliding cutaways and spoken coldly by Levine. Anyone seriously thinking about taking up Busshism is advised to check out Wheel of Time on DVD instead. Werner Herzog’s film arrived at the essence of Buddhism through visual sophistication—its sense of restraint a form of aesthetic meditation.

 Cast: His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, Bernardo Bertolucci, Dzongzar Khyentse, Melissa Mathison, Philip Glass, Venerable Tenzin Palmo, The Sakyong Mipham  Director: John Halpern  Running Time: 57 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2005  Buy: Video

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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