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Min Bahadur Bham Shambhala Review


Shambhala | 2024 Berlin Intl. Film Festival Review

Shambhala | 2024 Berlin Intl. Film Festival Review

Defending Your Life: Bham’s Captivating Quest Follows Its Own Path

Min Bahadur Bham Shambhala Review The journey is the destination in Nepalese director Min Bahadur Bam’s graceful sophomore film, Shambhala, a simple narrative about complex reckonings. The title is a name derived from Sanskrit, meaning a harmonious or tranquil place. In the context of Bam’s film, it refers both to a desired utopic afterlife as well as one’s own hearth and home, both spheres interrupted by an incident inspiring harmful village gossip. The scope of the quest centers on a quietly resilient woman named Pema, who embarks on the kind of journey which also echoes mythological strife, such as the tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice. Only this time around, it’s Eurydice who must rescue her lover from a metaphorical kind of Hades, one where they must contend with the past instead of ignoring it.

Pema (Thinley Lhamo) is presented as something of an anomaly from her first moments, her mother chiding her for laboring on her wedding day while her father proudly asserts she can do the work of both men and women. Her polyandrous betrothal to three brothers is itself a hierarchical one, as her beloved is eldest brother Tashi (Tenzin Dalha). Karma (Sonam Topden) is a monk, and will live in the monastery where he serves his Iama, the wise Rinpoche (Loten Namling). Their youngest brother is the preadolescent, Dawa (Karma Wangyal Gurung), who desires to be like his eldest brother and dislikes going to school, though his greatest dream is not to be a farmer, but a pilot.

Shortly after their marriage, Tashi must go on an annual trading journey with a nearby village, exchanging requested goods each community needs but cannot easily obtain based on their region or resources. While he’s away, Dawa refuses to obey Pema, and their age difference forces her to act as a mother. She consults his teacher, Ram Sir (Karma Shakya), looking for some way to make the boy take his schooling seriously. Inviting him to her home for dinner, Ram Sir ends up drinking too much, and falls asleep on her doorstep. Rumors of impropriety immediately ensue, and when it’s discovered Pema is pregnant, the villagers spread gossip of his siring the child. This news eventually passes on to Tashi, which Pema learns when he doesn’t return with the other traders. In an effort to quell the gossip and make sure Tashi hears the truth, she packs up her horse, Nhamka, and sets off on a journey to find him, accompanied by the reluctant Karma, who has no desire to leave the monastery, partially due to the ailing health of Rinpoche.

Grounding this narrative, mixing visual poetry with vulgar slander, is the captivating performance by Thinley Lhamo, who imbues Pema with a resilience and tenderness. Her suffering is remarked upon by those she’s intimate with, but she asserts everyone has their own path and they must follow it. The frustrating influence of the gossipy neighbors, whose charges have potentially dangerous ripple effects for Pema, strikes a universal chord with the shared experiences of women across times and cultures. A harbinger of her situation appears early on when Tashi warns her not to speak to one of the women in the village who is rumored to ‘have a lot of lovers.’ The thrust of Pema’s mission recalls something like the 1946 Barbara Stanqwyck starrer My Reputation or several Douglas Sirk titles, including 1955’s All That Heaven Allows (read review), films where women’s futures are dictated by the influence of ignorant adults and selfish children.

As the journey begins, Pema and Karma are initially annoyed and irritated with one another, and he doesn’t appear to be entirely helpful. But as they experience some tense encounters along the road, he begins to contemplate the importance of Pema’s mission, eventually concluding she deserves better. The specter of Shambhala is represented throughout. Karma remarks early on “A house is only a home when everyone is happy together.” Pema shares a mysterious dream she has with Rinpoche, confirming it is a vision of Shambhala, and eventually Bam begins to utilize dream sequences from Pema and Karma, which recalls a similar technique in his 2015 debut The Black Hen.

Bam reunites with his DP Aziz Zhambakyiv (who also shot Emir Baigazin’s excellent Harmony Lessons, 2013), and the Nepalese Himalayas provide a pristine, breathtaking backdrop for these ultimately petty miseries supported by fragile men. Eventually, it is a journey which bolsters the already considerable fortitude of Pema, forced to continually be the bigger person for them to succeed in obtaining their desired Shambhala.

Reviewed on February 22nd at the 2024 Berlin International Film Festival – Main Competition section. 150 mins.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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