Little Buddha

There’s nothing wrong in theory with Bernardo Bertolucci choosing to make a movie about Buddhism for kids, any more than with Akira Kurosawa taking a kids’ view of certain ecological issues in Dreams. Working with a script by Rudy Wurlitzer and Mark Peploe, the film oscillates between a contemporary tale about an elderly Tibetan lama believing that a little boy living in Seattle might be the reincarnation of his teacher and the story of Siddhartha and the origins of Buddhism 2,500 years ago; the latter sections tend to be more compelling than the former. The cast, which includes Keanu Reeves, Chris Isaak, and Bridget Fonda, isn’t all it might have been, but Bertolucci’s celebrated burnt-orange-and-burnished-lemon look remains handsome, and the story itself still commands some interest as a pivot into daunting material. Too bad that Miramax decreed about 15 minutes be cut from the original version, which has shown overseas; apparently a snappier kind of Buddhism is required here. 123 min. (JR)

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