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Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom

"absolutely loved it"

★★★★★ - STUFF 

- An absolute gem that's my new favourite 2022 movie - 

A friend called, asking what I might be up to. I told her I was about to watch a Bhutanese film about a teacher and a yak. I think she hung up in a huff, figuring I was dodging being sociable.

But, I really was watching a Bhutanese drama about a teacher – and there really is a cameo from an enormous yak. The yak even becomes the subject of a yarn the teacher tells his classroom, to explain his change of heart and why he has decided that life in a mountain village might not be such a bad thing after all.

The truth is, Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom isn't just the latest in the series "Tuckett's got a thing for films about farm-animals" (See Pig, Gunda, Nana et al).

Nope. It might actually be my favourite film of the year. And yes, I am aware that makes three so far and we are only up to June. I like to think that what I lack in discrimination, I might make up for in enthusiasm.

Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom is the story of Ugyen. He is a trainee teacher who has completed four of the mandatory five years of his course and must now be sent out to a country school to test his skills in a classroom. But the school is in a village some 5000 metres above sea-level. Population about 50. And a yak.

Lunana unfolds as it must. Films about cynical teachers from the city who are posted to country schools only have one trajectory and that is probably why I have a nagging feeling I have seen this exact same scenario played out, across various festivals over the years, in at least a dozen different languages. The Europeans have minted an entire genre of films about teachers who have their faith in humanity restored by their encounters with the honest toilers of the countryside and their clear-eyed and respectful loin-fruit.

And yet, Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom manages to transcend the lot. And not just for the fabulous scenery.

This is a genuinely lovable film. Even though you will guess that the outcome might be a happy one and there will be hugs and life-lessons for all before the credits roll, nothing – I hope – will prepare you for the warm-heartedness and lack of artifice here. Lunana might be a very old story, but it has seldom been reduced to its component parts and then reassembled with as much love.

An early admission from Ugyen that what he really wants to do is sing – and that he hopes that might lead – I'm not making this up – to being able to travel to Australia and “swim at Bondi Beach” is not even the oddest thing that happens here. And somehow I haven't even mentioned that a thunderous great yak does indeed wander into the classroom. But in a way that seemed so haphazard, unintended and serendipitous that maybe the film-makers figured it was easier to let it stay and just change the name of the film to accommodate it.

Listen, I make no secret of the fact that I adore this job. And the best thing about it isn't the “big nights” with the superheroes and the spaceships. It's not even the festival openings, hoovering up the canapes and the merlot with the great and the good. No, what I love the most and always will, is sitting down to watch a film I know nothing about, in a setting of such unlikeliness that my friends will not even believe that the film exists – and then being blown away and set on fire all over again by what a first-time director and a cast of unknowns can achieve with a plot we already know inside and out.

Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom is an absolute gem. Just as Ugyen makes the journey to Lunana, so I reckon you should walk or catch an Uber or a bus to wherever in your town is showing it.

And then, when your friends call to ask where you have been, you can tell them you have seen a film about a Bhutanese teacher and a yak. And then, like me, you can tell them that you absolutely loved it. Bravo.

- Graeme Tuckett, STUFF

Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom is now playing limited sessions at Light House Petone!


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