In Dreaming Lhasa, documentarians Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam have crafted the story of Karma (Tenzin Chokyi Gyatso), a doc filmmaker in Dharamsala, India, populated by exiled Tibetans. While making a film about political prisoners who have fled Tibet, she meets Dhondup (Jampa Kalsang), a former monk brutalized by the invading Chinese. He is trying to find a long-missing man his dying mother once knew and return a charm box to him. Karma, along with her young assistant Jigme (Tenzin Jigme), decides to help him on this difficult quest.
There's no questioning the sincere intentions of the filmmakers, but their dull dialogue and unsure, sometimes aimless-seeming dramatic focus make their film less than compelling. Ranjat Palit's camerawork is alive to the mystique and many beauties of the terrain covered in the characters' journey, but too many scenes, like Jigme's singing episodes, feel arbitrarily tacked on. The intermittent footage of prisoners describing their horrendous tortures is more distracting than revelatory, like an attempt to instill an easy, instant profundity to the non-involving narrative. There's an attempt to inject some romantic interest, with both Dhondup and Jigme expressing their attraction to Karma, but Gyatso's stiff, amateurish acting definitively precludes the development of any emotional glow. Kalsang is handsome and dignified, while Jigme provides some antic life spark into these rather dreary, if highly worthy, proceedings. (But it is a noisy female mystic, to whom they turn for answers, who actually provides the most gripping performance in the film.) After the characters' arduous trek, the climactic meeting with their goal, a hermit monk named Loga with a very predictable secret, feels flat and dramatically unrewarding.