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Review: Time spent with even an imperfect ‘The Last Dalai Lama?’ is not wasted

Dalai Lama
The 14th Dalai Lama
(Ashwini Bhatia / Associated Press)

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 – titled “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.

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“The Last Dalai Lama?”

In English, and Chinese with English subtitles

No rating

Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes

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Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center

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