The Sweet Requiem (Ritu Sarin & Tenzing Sonam, India/USA) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Chelsea Phillips-Carr

Tibetan refugee Dolkar (Tenzin Dolker) has an active yet average life in Delhi, but we quickly come to see that this woman’s focus on the quotidian is a way to forget past pain. Moving between Dolkar’s adult life in India and flashbacks of her childhood trek through the Himalayas in order to escape her native country, directors Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam follow how their protagonist slowly comes to terms with her memories. At times, the trauma of the past intrudes on the present: a surprise encounter with a man Dolkar knew in her previous life brings up feelings of anger, guilt, and confusion. Gradually reconciling with her past, Dolkar moves beyond her intense anger towards a compassion that nevertheless holds China accountable for the oppression which continues to harm her and her community.

The Sweet Requiem has a narrative structure that, in its focus on Dolkar’s perspective, allows us to understand her story as she slowly recalls events. But though we are submerged in her psychic wounds, we are never bogged down by them, which may or may not be a good thing. The film is an easy watch—accessible, informative, and with a personal heart to it—which is a double-edged sword. Without any rigour, we can consume the issues of Tibetan independence, oppression, and trauma. This enables an effortless spread of knowledge as much as it blunts the fatal extremes of political realities. The Sweet Requiem is a capably made film, but overly digestible: in its very moving drama, it makes a set of complex, dire circumstances feel all too simple.

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