Bhutan | 2016 | 96 mins | Dzongkha | Crew Members Attending
In this intriguing Buddhist-themed drama, a group of people meet in the jungles of Bhutan and don masks for 15 days of transgressive but liberating anonymity. The gathering, held every 12 years, is convened by the elderly Agay, who strictly prohibits anyone from removing their disguise. Amid revelry and dances, the participants shed their identities and exult in the freedom of being unknown. When one of the members, ‘Expressionless’, develops a powerful desire for ‘Red Wrathful’, he breaks the rules of both the commune and society in an act that quickly spirals out of control. “Hema Hema” translates as “long, long ago”, and director Khyentse Norbu evokes a timeless limbo—the liminal space between death and rebirth. The forest locale is mesmerisingly beautiful, sometimes dappled with sunlight and sometimes darkly menacing. The cast’s colourful masks add to the visual pleasure whilst creating a deliberately frustrating barrier.
Born in 1961 in Khenpajong, East Bhutan, Khyentse Norbu—also known as Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche— is a Buddhist teacher and filmmaker. After acting as a consultant on Bernardo Bertolucci’s Little Buddha (1993), his directorial debut came with The Cup (1999), followed by Travellers and Magicians (2003) and Vara: A Blessing (2013). Khyentse is known as the reincarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and has studied with some of the greatest Tibetan masters. Identifying his inspiration for Hema Hema, he says, “At one point I became fascinated by the culture of chat rooms and how scary, rewarding, blissful and depressing they can be … People often adopt characters and images that hide their identity, sometimes trying to express who they think they really are, sometimes to idealise someone else … A key theme of the film is based on this modern phenomenon.”