“Travellers & Magicians” has the historic distinction of being the first feature film made in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. It also has the distinction of capturing Bhutan’s stunning wilderness via the crisp Super 16mm cinematography of Alan Kozlowski. There’s also the distinction of being the second film from Khyentse Norbu.
And the distinctions come to an abrupt end at that point. “Travellers & Magicians” is basically a leisurely light comedy about a very bored government officer in a remote village who is too eager to emigrate to America. Whether dancing (badly) to loud Western rock music or sporting a hair style which is more commonplace in America’s bohemian arts sector rather than rural Bhutan, he is clearly a fish out of water (or in this case, a fish in the mountains). When he receives permission for a brief trip to attend a religious festival, he quickly packs his bags with the hope of reaching the capital to snag a visa and jet away to the land of red and blue states.
Of course, his plans go awry and his journey through the Bhutan countryside brings him into contact with more than a few wise and/or witty and/or pretty folks (the pretty ones tend to be females). As the film progresses, the officer’s game plan loses prominence to a variety of apocryphal tales and smile-inducing encounters.
It feels mean-spirited to slam “Travellers & Magicians,” since it is clearly a sincere endeavor. Yet the production’s pacing is so slow that only the most rabid devotee of foreign films will have the patience to endure its plodding. Even worse, the non-professional cast are not the best actors. Line readings come without tact or irony, and even with the safe distance of listening of English subtitles (covering dialogue in Dzongkha) it is obvious that the performers are not up to the task.
Still, Bhutan is a beautiful country and the film’s celebration of its natural resources and local customs makes this a passable travelogue. “Travellers & Magicians” is lovely to look at, but once you’ve gotten your fill of majestic Himalayan peaks it is easy to become as restless as the film’s central character.