Reincarnation is a complex, misunderstood and politically polarizing canon of Buddhism. To date its place in contemporary cinema has been scarce and vague. Save for Martin Scorsese’s 1997 documentary Kundun there hasn’t been much that has shed light on this oft-maligned, oft-misunderstood tradition. In 2001, Israeli director Nati Boratz was backpacking with his wife in Tibet when he stopped by the Kopan Monastery in northern Nepal. While there he struck up a conversation with Tenzin Zopa, a monk mourning the loss of his mentor, Geshe Lama Konchog, who had dedicated more than 20 years to solitude and prayer. This initial encounter led to what would become the five year journey that is Unmistaken Child.
The film begins in 2002 when Tenzin is ordered by the High Llamas to seek out the reincarnated child of his mentor. Traveling by helicopter, mule and foot he questions various villagers and farmers in the hopes of finding a child no older than one-and-a-half and no younger than one, an edict that was told to him in prophesy by the High Llamas. Frame by frame, the viewer gets a glimpse of the steadfast determination, discipline and diligence that makes up Tenzin Zopa. Incredibly likable, charismatic and even a little humorous, Zopa is a compelling protagonist whose multi-year quest is gripping and inspirational. Backed by stunning landscapes, a stirring soundtrack and a quick pace, Unmistaken Child is a rare delight. A film that pulls no punches, makes no false claims and relies solely on the story and the characters to do the work. Having had its New York premiere earlier this month at New York’s famed Film Forum, Unmistaken Child has already garnered 8 film awards and has both a larger audience and more awards in its sights.