REVIEW: Happiness

Hot Docs 2014

2 mins read

France/Finland, 80 min.
Dir. Thomas Balmès
Programme: Special Presentations (Canadian Premiere)

Bhutan measures progress in terms of Gross Domestic Happiness. Wealth is not a material concept, but rather a collective one. The value of happiness could be changing, though, for Happiness shows the Bhutanese currency in flux as the landlocked Himalayan country adapts to modern conveniences. The film shows Bhutan on the cusp of change as materialism creeps from the cities to the small village of Laya, which has waited 15 years for electricity since it first came to Bhutan in 1999.

Happiness looks at the infiltration of technology through the eyes of a young boy named Peyangki. His mother, too poor to provide for her family, sends the boy to live with the monks. The irony of his mother’s choice, though, is that Peyangki’s uncle plans to use the extra money he has, to buy a television. The village does not yet have electricity, but the promise of TV puts a bug in the air that nips the villagers with anticipation.

The final sequence of the film sees the long-awaited arrival of television. Its appearance feels like an invasion. No title cards are needed to mark the change, for image upon image of zombified villagers marks the corruption of a culture.

Happiness neither romanticizes nor idealizes Laya with its matter-of-fact portrait of Peyangki’s childhood. This outstanding documentary captures childhood in a seemingly natural state as Peyangki plays outside in-between lessons. The expansive landscape conveys a world of possibilities, and the visually stunning cinematography by Thomas Balmès and Nina Bernfeld accentuates every inch of the natural environment to create a kind of hyperreality as the film perceives an innocent environment free from the intrusions of contemporary society. Each powerful image of Peyangki strolling along the hills offers a metaphor of a child balancing on the border of two worlds. Happiness is a film to cherish.

Isabel Bader
Mon, April 28, 4:00 PM

TIFF Bell Lightbox
Sun, May 4, 11:00 AM

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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