Insular Yet Hollow World: Our Review of ‘Tenzin’

Posted in Theatrical by - March 17, 2023
Insular Yet Hollow World: Our Review of ‘Tenzin’

Tenzin (Tenzin Kelsang) lies in bed with his girlfriend Choekyi (Tenzin Choekyi) who tells him about a dream where she sees him as a formless being. The titular character feels that as his constant. He lives in Canada, presumably in the Toronto neighbourhood where Tibetan Canadians live. Like most Asian-Canadians, he’s of two worlds, one of them being in his enclave where he and most people only speak Tibetan. One thing that sets him apart is his ideology. His brother is a figure that the community admires for immolating himself, protesting China’s occupation of Tibet. His face, however, doesn’t share that same admiration. Instead of attending milder protests or the temple, he hangs around in clubs and working with a fellow Tibetan. He resents that workplace because of a Canadian taking advantage of him.

A film about a clash of generations, Tenzin got a Canadian Screen Award nomination for Achievement in Costume Design. It earns that nomination for capturing the working class normcore aesthetic prominent within his social and work circles. Of course, there’s also the traditional outfits that some of the older Tibetan characters wear. It’s elements like this that reinforce Tenzin’s insular world, one where he doesn’t have to deal with the Anglophones. The few pieces of criticism, however, did not appreciate that Michael LeBlanc and Joshua Reichmann directed this. There is that possibility that some viewers may interpret Tenzin’s secularism with the film imposing a Western viewpoint. Tenzin does, thank the gods, credit Choekyi and Kelsang as story writers. There’s an authenticity to this that speaks to collaboration, but that’s not the film’s problem.

There’s a potential within making Tenzin about a man and his troubles but the film squanders that potential. There are too many hangout scenes for a film that, in theory, deals with internal struggles. He lies around in bed with Choekyi, he walks down the stairs of Bay Subway Station, he passes out in a club. He walks around Toronto, bracing himself for an early shift at his job. Kelsang does his best to bring out his character’s emotions, sometimes doing so while the directors only shoot half of his face. He also is perpetually depressed without coming off as mopey, sliding into territory where he become unsympathetic. But there’s not enough material here. This mid length feature feels like it’s stretching so much that it seems like this should have been a short.

Watch Tenzin at the Revue.

  • Release Date: 3/17/2023
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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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