Thursday, January 7, 2021

Sing Me A Song Review: An Emotional And Enlightening Documentary

Release date: January 1, 2021
Running time: 100 minutes
Director: Thomas Balmès
Stars: Peyangki, Ugyen

As the Internet finally arrives in tiny Bhutan, documentarian Thomas Balmès is there to witness its transformative impact on a young Buddhist monk whose initial trepidation gives way to profound engagement with the technology.

Sing Me A Song is an interesting documentary that feels much like a drama.  It doesn't have any narration and relies on video footage of the individuals involved.  You learn the story and situation directly from them and their interactions.  It is striking at times, making this film feel much more like a movie rather than a documentary because you are experiencing what these people are.  But it can also lead to some confusing scenes as I sometimes did not know who or what the situation was that I was watching.  

The first thing you will notice about Sing Me A Song is the  phenomenal cinematography.  The film has some absolutely beautiful scenes of Bhutan before technology, and some striking ones after it is introduced.  But director Thomas Balmès has a fantastic eye for giving this documentary a cinematic style.  You get some interesting tracking shots and some cuts during dramatic scenes that really make this feel like a movie.   But you also get some really long shots of dramatic moments, up close and very personal.  It is not the access I would have anticipated with a documentary but it definitely makes the challenges and interests of the young monk feel very personal.

And this film documents a very striking change in Bhutan.  You have a place that had very little technology transform into one that fully embraces modern conveniences.  And following this one monk is enlightening as you can see just how attached and comfortable he becomes with technology and general popular culture in a very short time.  Video games, cell phones, video chat, and simulated violence all become common place in a very short time.  And you have interesting contrasts of picturesque landscapes that people are ignoring due to their phones (which is not too unlike observations that have come about in our own popular culture).  But you also get some very awkward scenes that without more narration, can be a little tough to follow.  There were instances where participants in the documentary acted a little strangely and it was left to the viewer to guess at what the reasoning was.  But wow these scenes can be painful as this young monk learns to deal with modern life.  I would have appreciated a little bit more context, but I can't fault the filmmaker for making this choice.  It turned the film into something more compelling and more cinematic.  

Sing Me A Song shows the pervasive and emotional effect that technology can have on even the remotest of areas, and has a cinematic style that makes this documentary emotional and enlightening.

Watch it.

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Sing Me A Song is available digitally and on demand.

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