Seven years after her debut film, SEEDS, Paris-based Fashion Designer/Filmmaker Tenzin Dasel is ready with her new film, ROYAL CAFE, directed with Remi Caritey. The film which is set in Paris has Tibetan characters “far from the usual Tibetan stereotypes and reveals them as simply men & women all marked by their own desires, disappointments and loneliness”. Except for Pema Shitsetsang (the protagonist of the film), Tenzin Woebum and Tenzin Norsang (both ex TIPA), the rest of the cast are new faces making their acting debut in this no -budget film.
In a sense, Dazel has made the first anti-Shangrila film. Unlike the virtuous Tibetan Buddhists of Western imagination, or the political victims always portrayed collectively in mainstream narratives, Dazel’s Tibetans are individuals who are hurt and scarred but not entirely innocent, who are as lost in their own thoughts as in this world, who have big dreams but little hope, who have landed in Paris but are stuck in Royal Cafe, a sad coffee house that is anything but royal. Yet these individuals, amid their dehumanizing circumstances, miraculously manage to create small moments of kindness that somehow preserve their humanity and dignity.
The cafe is a metaphor for the political and personal limbo in which these exiles are trapped, individually and collectively. Their statelessness holds them captive in more than one dimension, reflecting the larger fate of many undocumented migrants who have been driven from their original homes by war, politics or nature. Under the neon lights of the cafe, they silently nurse their latte in a kind of bardo, grasping for a fleeting moment of warmth and companionship while waiting for the documents that would deliver them into daylight.
Unlike the forgettable characters of plotless stories that populate the films of lesser artists, the Tibetans in ‘Royal Cafe’ feel real, and their conversations sound authentic. Their performance animates the screen and endows the film with a beating heart and a genuine soul. We get entangled in their lives, and find ourselves wishing that the film was longer than 40 minutes so that we could continue to follow their stories. ‘Royal Cafe,’ a milestone in Tibetan exile cinema, is a major accomplishment from an immensely talented director whose star is just beginning to rise.