Spend­ing time with Dalai Lama

Los Angeles Times - - AT THE MOVIES - — Robert Abele

There’s a lot to be said for re­ally dig­ging your sub­ject, and in his doc­u­men­tary “The Last Dalai Lama?,” Mickey Lemle gen­tly cap­tures some­thing charm­ing and warmly thought­ful about the ex­iled Ti­betan leader. Now an oc­to­ge­nar­ian, the 14th Dalai Lama re­mains an­i­mat­edly curious about how hu­man­ity can be more com­pas­sion­ate.

Unfortunately, the di­rec­tor’s breezy ap­proach doesn’t al­ways make for a cap­ti­vat­ing view­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

Fol­low­ing his ho­li­ness to an 80th-birth­day cel­e­bra­tion in New York, tag­ging along as he vis­its schoolchil­dren in Bri­tish Columbia learn­ing emo­tional in­tel­li­gence, or con­sult­ing with PhD re­searchers work­ing on an “at­las of emo­tions” oc­ca­sion­ally en­gen­ders an air of unedited B-roll rather than a pointed por­trait.

Then again, Lemle has pro­filed this ven­er­ated monk be­fore and uses in­ter­view footage from that 1993 film, “Com­pas­sion in Ex­ile,” as an oc­ca­sional jump­ing-off point to find out where the world’s most fa­mous Bud­dhist cur­rently stands on such mat­ters as his own tran­quil­lity and mor­tal­ity and an op­pres­sive China that insists on be­ing in­volved in “se­lect­ing” his suc­ces­sor. (The Dalai Lama’s re­sponse: Rein­car­na­tion isn’t a given, and if it hap­pens, it won’t be in a Ti­bet that isn’t free.) While lack­ing the fo­cused artistry of a more com­plete pic­ture, “The Last Dalai Lama?” is still good com­pany, thanks to the wise, witty man at its cen­ter.

“The Last Dalai Lama?” In English, and Chi­nese with English sub­ti­tles. Not rated. Run­ning time: 1 hour, 22 min­utes. Play­ing: Laemmle Mon­ica Film Cen­ter.

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