Recounting the life of the 14th Dalai Lama prior to his departure from Tibet, this highly uncharacteristic feature by Martin Scorsese is his best since The King of Comedy, but you can’t profitably approach it expecting either the violence or the stylistic punchiness of something like GoodFellas. Scripted by Melissa Mathison (in close consultation with the Dalai Lama and his family) and cast almost exclusively with Tibetan exiles, this nonreligious movie about a religious leader is beautiful, abstract, charged with mystery, but never pretentious. Far from dictating a position on the Dalai Lama, the film doesn’t even define a particular point at which the spoiled toddler is transformed into a holy man; a good deal of the historical, political, and religious context is implied rather than explained, and most of the major events occur offscreen. Despite the somewhat questionable wallpaper score by Philip Glass, Scorsese’s delicate, inquisitive style has an inevitability and a rightness all its own. Gardens, Lake, Pipers Alley. –Jonathan Rosenbaum
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.