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Monday, 06 February 2012 10:06

'My Reincarnation' Explores a Father-Son Relationship

'My Reincarnation' Explores a Father-Son Relationship
Written by Diane Carson
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As much a human-interest story as a spiritual odyssey, Jennifer Fox's documentary My Reincarnation chronicles the relationship between spiritual Tibetan Buddhist Master Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and his secular son Yeshi. Fox gives equal screen time to both men, crosscutting between scenes with them together and alone, while also giving each voiceover narration to express innermost thoughts and feelings.

The film begins in the present and then flashes back to 1989 to detail the history of Rinpoche (the name most often used) and Yeshi. The father of Dzogchen teaching master Rinpoche moved his family from Tibet to Italy in 1959, prompted by the Chinese occupation of Eastern Tibet. In Italy, Rinpoche married Italian Catholic Rosa and gradually became recognized internationally as a Tibetan scholar, employed by the University of Naples. As the documentary picks up the story 13 years later, again six years after that and then in the present, Fox focuses on Rinpoche speaking formally with groups and offering individual advice, but she also includes informative, candid footage—Rosa cooking, family dinners, watching television, enjoying swimming in the ocean, and, in the father's later years, dealing with medical issues.

Throughout the film, Fox juxtaposes Yeshi's voiceover commentary with Rinpoche's and representative scenes from Yeshi's life, strikingly different from Rinpoche's world. Born and raised in Italy, Yeshi explains that he and his father have more a master-son relationship than the father-son rapport that he clearly longs for. In footage from the earlier years, Yeshi expresses his skepticism of his supposed reincarnation of his uncle Khyentse, a Tibetan spiritual leader. Yeshi admits that he doesn't want and, in fact, fears the responsibility that comes with such a position. When he asks his father for help interpreting his dreams, the father remains silent or offers only platitudes.

In his twenties, Yeshi is happy to obtain a good job with IBM. He travels often to Mexico, New York, Moscow, etc.; but as the years go by, his life revolves increasingly around his father in unexpected ways. The heart of the film is the evolution of the Rinpoche and Yeshi's connection to each other and to their pasts. A visit by the Dalai Lama makes a strong impression on Yeshi whose nonverbal reactions speak volumes.

In many ways, the division between Rinpoche and Yeshi epitomizes the generational divide between more traditional values of parents and the dramatically different lifestyles and attitudes of the younger generation. But, given the position Rinpoche holds, his and Yeshi's differences take on added import. Ironically, we hear Rinpoche giving advice to devotees while Yeshi searches for guidance and receives much less than he desires. Perhaps surprisingly, the counsel Rinpoche offers followers amounts to no more than common sense, but we also recognize how helpful that can often be.

Technically, most shots are merely serviceable, though a few beautiful compositions do enliven the documentary's subdued, understated approach. In 100 minutes, as the father's and the son's lives converge, Fox conveys a sweeping, global story about important decisions we all can relate to. The St. Louis premiere of My Reincarnation is in English, Spanish, Italian and Tibetan with English subtitles. It's showing at Webster University's Winifred Moore auditorium at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, February 10th through Sunday, February 12. For more information, you may call 314-968-7487 or you may go series.

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