Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom
Ugyen (Sherab Dorji) is one year away from finishing his five-year teaching job and leaving Bhutan for Australia to become a singer. However, his superiors have grown tired of his laziness and decide to send him to the isolated village of Lunana as punishment. With an eight-day hike to get there, and no teaching supplies at his disposal, this place initially feels like another world to him. But as the villagers openly welcome him into their fold, the city boy begins to form strong bonds with his students and the community.
Though the premise is a familiar one, there’s plenty of charm woven throughout writer-director Pawo Choyning Dorji’s feature debut, Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom. Moreover, this feature is made that bit more special for being the first Bhutanese film to be nominated for an Oscar.
The production makes the most out of the village’s spectacular setting. Jaw-dropping vistas of seemingly endless hills that brush the clouds create a distinctive sense of place. From the eye-widening visuals, use of traditional song and a focus on the community’s humble way of life, this movie romanticises Lunana’s untouched natural beauty alongside the traditions it represents. Moreover, the filmmaker goes as far to include some dialogue about global warming’s impact on the area to underscore the fragility of these people’s existence.
Dorji is phenomenal in the leading role. The actor carries himself with a natural charisma that makes him instantly likeable. It’s impossible not to adore him after watching him teach his class of enthusiastic youngsters nursery rhymes – including an improvised version of Old MacDonald. The supporting cast are likewise delightful to watch, with Ugyen Norbu Lhendup being a standout as a yak herder who becomes the teacher’s guide and friend. The more Ugyen embraces this extraordinary place, the more he (and viewers) come to understand it as he undergoes a spiritual transformation.
As heart-warming as this film is, it nevertheless has its share of missteps when it comes to pacing and developing some of the wider issues it draws attention to (such as global warming). However, these are minor grievances about a feature debut that successfully transports viewers into the picturesque mountain village to become acquainted with the kind-hearted characters who call it home.
Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom is released in select cinemas and digitally on demand on 10th March 2023.
Watch the trailer for Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom here: