My Reincarnation, a new documentary from director Jennifer Fox, is culturally specific, yet universally drawn - no easy task, but Fox's steady, affectionate reveal of the tumultuous generation gap between Tibetan Buddhist leader Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and his Western-born son Yeshi manages to locate such a balance. Norbu believes Yeshi to be the reincarnation of his uncle, a revered Buddhist master and, naturally, wishes him follow his footsteps. Nevertheless, Yeshi prefers the arts and education ("I want to be a photographer and play music"). While Fox spends much time following Norbu's public speeches, which have attained an almost celebrity status within the Buddhist community, the film primarily remains concerned with the relationship between father/son and their reuniting as Norbu, now 70, is dying of cancer.
The most impressive aspects of My Reincarnation are its specificity of tone, insight, and focus. At a mere 82 minutes, Fox juggles various interests, but ultimately is most concerned with parsing through each man's inclinations - Norbu's being a complex sense of duty, honor, and heritage for Yeshi's subsequent path, but Yeshi, essentially a full-blooded, middle-class secularist (in other words, of his society), seeks a path of education and individual betterment, diverging the two from one another. Fox rarely lets the material go astray and, seeing that she has been following her subjects for nearly 20 years, it's no surprise that My Reincarnation avoids simplistic moralizing or sentimental moments. Far from seeking easy pathos, Fox allows her subjects to do the talking - the best kind of documentarian - and instead of forcing her feature's relevance or significance, in turn, allows humanity and familial struggle (never precious) to convincingly achieve these ends.
My Reincarnation will play @ Roxie Theater in San Francisco from Friday, December 23rd - Thursday, December 29th.