Nothing More and Travelers & Magicians between here and there

Speaking of feeling foreign and the unbearable tension between your wings and your roots, here are two films that deal with the conflicted desire to leave your native land. Their plots are almost a mirror reflection of each other yet they offer the same inspiration to follow your dreams.  But you know, dreams can be a twisted, unreal reality.

Nothing More (Juan Carlos Cremata, Cuba, 2001). Imagine Cuba, where bureaucracy is a tool for control and where vocal dissatisfaction with life is not allowed.  Clara, a young postal employee has languished for years, waiting for her green card so that she can join her parents in Miami.  But her mother’s letters bring her both hope and despair of the unknown.

Should she just hold on there, numb and patient, and keep on stamping letters all day long with the postal stamp of approval? Clara opens a letter almost by accident and its sadness strikes her. She decides to rewrite it, in the same handwriting but in a loving tone, and then seal it back. That first experience proves exilarating and she takes to opening letters from more and more senders and translating their gloomy, dark message into declarations of affection and hopefulness. People’s lives change for the better because of her invasion of their privacy and her beautified distortion of reality. She has almost turned herself into the figure of the feared secret agent all Cubans are wary of: someone who would open their correspondence, a representative of a regime that insists on a happy-face allegiance to the official version of a sugar-coated reality.

The other film is Travelers and Magicians (Khyentse Norbu, Bhutan/Australia, 2003). There is a government employee here, too: stuck in the middle of nowhere in the (beautiful!) Bhutanese countryside,  Dondup is rushing to get to the American consulate in time for his green card appointment, with high hopes for a better life in the US, his personal Shangri-La. In his painfully slow quest to reach the capital through the spectacular mountains, he reluctantly joins a group of fellow travelers. One of them, a witty Buddhist monk, catches Dondup’s inner turmoil and entertains the group with a winding story of travel, dream pursuit and love that metaphorically mirrors his real-time life. That tale ultimately changes Dondup’s mind about his own ambition.

Yes, government employees always have an interesting connection to reality. They are supposed to enforce it, they somehow create it… and in this case, they also want to escape it. They are the ultimate link between a local culture and globalization, especially Clara in her post office role, and personally are torn between leaving and staying. For both, dreams make a big difference in their change of perception and life decisions. They follow a dream they didn’t expect: Clara takes the imagined reality she creates for her letter senders and Dondup accepts the significance of the dream in the monk’s story.

I love these two films’ questioning the belief that the grass is always greener on the other side, without any didactic nationalism or moralization. They don’t advocate staying where you were born because your country is intrinsically a more noble place or because your ancestors commanded you so. You may stay because of your power to view reality from a different point of view or with a different meaning. They also empower you to change it, even in a Buddhist way by changing yourself 🙂


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