Nati Baratz’ documentary follows the journey of Tenzin Zopa, a benign Tibetan Buddhist monk who searches for the child that may be the reincarnation of Lama Konchog, a holy man who passed away in 2001. Tenzin shleps through isolated villages in Nepal, relying on a combination of dreams, hunches and vague directions from Nepalese peasants, before locating a chubby toddler that he believes to be the reincarnated lama.
It helps to approach “Unmistaken Child” with some knowledge of basic Buddhist tenets and cultural protocol – not the least being why any parent who voluntarily abandon their child to a monk because it is assumed the kid was a great person in a previous life. The film also telescopes Tenzin’s search dramatically, making it seem that it was more than a little easy. Furthermore, the sloppiness of the editing gives the impression that the youngster chosen as the reincarnated lama might be coached into believing about his past – when he starts talking about the dead lama’s belongings as his own, it is very hard not to imagine that idea was planted in his young fertile mind.
Although the film is handsomely filmed and features a surprisingly frank view of the political machinations within the upper ranks of Tibetan Buddhism – even the Dalai Lama comes across as a bit of a wheeler-dealer – “Unmistaken Child” is more than a little disappointing.