Review by Benjamin Poole
Directed by: Karma Deki
Starring: Kezang Wangmo, Karma Chedon, Emrhys Cooper, Bumpa Dorji
In the southern end of the Eastern Himalayas, in the fuzzy atmosphere where terra firma meets azure high up from the towns and villages below, groups of female workers ceaselessly weave at wooden looms, pulling and tucking disparate multi-coloured threads into the soft rainbow textiles which provide the region’s economy. The refined materials produced in these rustic settlements are not only important in terms of prosperity, but significant to Bhutanese tradition too. The weavers, mainly women, are privileged within the culture; seen as both the makers of wealth and the custodians of skills developed over centuries; the textiles are hewn from history, past and present intimately woven together through artisan skills and processes passed down over time. The special nature of this culture encourages western photographer Charlie (Emrhys Cooper), on assignment from Los Angeles, to document the phenomena.
Karma Deki’s film is a unique insight to this niche culture, and I felt privileged to witness a gentle, creative society that in my exclusively western pop-culture infused ignorance I had no real idea about. The authenticity of Kushuthara: Pattern of Love is utterly immersive: as Charlie integrates himself into the village (an actual place, with the film utilising, I presume, bone fide locals), we see the women weave, the men pound dirt, and witness Charlie actually milk a cow. You feel the dust and dirt, experience the dizzy-clear air of high altitudes and the welcoming warmth of this peaceful community. If you were to visit perhaps you would fall in love, as Charlie, inevitably, does within the first 20 minutes. He is drawn to Metho (Karma Chedon), a woman who lives in the village with, yikes!, her husband! Charlie, however, becomes increasingly convinced that he and Metho are destined to be together, their individual threads crossed over and tied by time itself; after all, the Kushuthara is worn by ‘one who is loved’.
Stalker alert, yeah? Well, not quite. Charlie’s dreams are lavishly realised in striking sequences by director Deki, with Charlie visualising a timeless fairy tale romance that tells of a doomed love which seems, upon waking, to have transposed to the present. Charlie, whose western naivety borders on a kind of cheerful idiocy, asks if there is ‘any actual evidence for reincarnation’. Perhaps he recognises the happy coincidence that Metho, his thread-crossed lover, is absolutely stunning; maybe the most gorgeous feature in a film that is already resplendent with dazzling visuals. ‘Every raindrop has its own melody’, he whispers to Metho, the old smoothie (still, I noted the line down mentally for the next time I’m on the pull down the disco…). Midway through the film I was wondering whom actor Cooper reminded me of, and then, in a dance sequence that is quite something, it became instantly clear: a young Ricky Gervais. In a bizarre campfire moment where Charlie channels the teen spirit of Ren McCormack, the American interloper sort of fuses Flashdance with MC Hammer shit, energetically popping his body to a beat heavy song coming from a CD player in a show designed to share western tradition with his hosts. The locales, to their credit, simply smile indulgently - in the way you would with a toddler - exemplifying their unfussy zen. Oh, the joy it brought me!
And that’s summative of Kushuthara: Pattern of Love, a complete joy of a movie. Sure, you could pick at threads here and there (the dialogue seems stiffly dubbed in a way that unwelcomingly recalls Italian exploitation movies, for instance), but why unravel this otherwise delicately woven tapestry? Deki plaits the intricate threads of her narrative - the local colour, the themes of time and love, the incredible scenery - to create material that is pretty to look at and soft to the touch; a pattern of love to warm the heart.
Kushuthara: Pattern of Love is in UK cinemas April 7th.