Review: ‘Unmistaken Child’ documents search for reincarnated monk
Even atheists may find their world rocked by Nati Baratz’s “Unmistaken Child,” a simple documentary about a Buddhist monk’s search for the reincarnated soul of his beloved teacher.
The ashes were hardly cold on the 2001 funeral pyre of Tibetan master Lama Konchog when his disciple Tenzin Zopa began the search for the child into whose body Konchog’s spirit had taken up residence.
The 30-ish Tenzin is an astonishing gentle fellow who weeps openly when describing his years with Konchog, who took him in when he was only 7. Now he faces a daunting challenge.
Buddhist astrologers provide a few hints: Konchog most likely was reborn in the Tsum Valley of Nepal to a family whose last name begins with “A.” Traveling by helicopter and by foot — the cinematography is gorgeous — Tenzin goes from town to town inquiring about children of a certain age.
He comes across a little boy who immediately gloms on to the late Konchog’s prayer beads and won’t let go. In one amazing scene the child faces a table filled with objects and unerringly picks those that belonged to Konchog. His family’s name begins with “A.”
For Westerners the idea of plucking a toddler from his parents and siblings, shaving his head and raising him in a monastic setting of chastity and contemplation sounds borderline barbaric.
The child’s peasant parents are saddened to see him go (they could have refused), but as the father says, if the boy grows up to pray for the salvation of all sentient beings, the sacrifice will be worth it.
This is either crazy or crazily enlightened. Baratz, an Israeli, doesn’t editorialize either way.
After a meeting with the Dalai Lama, who proclaims that this is indeed the reincarnation of his friend Konchog, the boy begins his new life. With him constantly is Tenzin, who serves as caregiver, tutor and playmate.
The situation resonates with ironic beauty. If you buy into the reincarnation thing, Tenzin is now the father of his father.
The wheel continues turning.