The Sweet Requiem, written by Tenzing Sonam and directed by Sonam and Ritu Sarin, is a perfect example of what can happen when a film gets weighed down by its politics. The movie is about a Tibetan refugee who lives in India when she encounters a figure from her past, triggering painful flashbacks about her experience crossing the border as a child.
The premise of the film has a lot of potential to be socially relevant and emotionally impactful. However, the narrative is presented in a way that is so inconsistent and hard-to-follow that the movie is unable to accomplish many of its goals. The flashback structure isn’t particularly helpful, so the film would have been much better off had it been presented in a more straightforward, linear way.
The themes of the movie, about trauma and coping with the past, are quite interesting. It’s just a shame that those ideas are lost in favor of other narrative threads that don’t work quite as well. Had Sonam and Sarin had more focus on the parts of the story that were important and resonant, this easily could have been one of the more interesting films to come out this year.
That said, there is a core flaw in the movie that would have needed to be adjusted before anything else: the character development is weak. We don’t get to spend enough time with either the adult or child version of the character to connect with her before the film jumps again, so even though the situation in which she finds herself is compelling, the character isn’t written well enough to work.
Because it is hard to sympathize with the characters, it is also hard to connect with the movie on an emotional level. It shouldn’t have been hard for the film to be resonant, especially given the mistreatment of immigrants in the United States that has been dominating the headlines recently, but somehow, the filmmakers were not able to form that connection between the audience and the characters.
This lack of connection certainly isn’t the fault of the actors, as they try their best despite the dearth of material they are given. The lead actress, Tenzin Dolker, gives a solid performance, showing a good amount of range. Undeniably the most impressive part of the movie is watching the character as she repeats her daily routine, albeit with changing emotions caused by her internal conflict, and Dolker is able to bring this to life.
Another thing that could have used some work is the editing of the film. Perhaps this is more an issue with the messy storyline, but the editing feels tremendously choppy. Apart from a few powerful scenes (including one that we see twice), most of the movie feels like it was shot and assembled in a rush.
The Sweet Requiem could have been great, but as a whole, it feels like it needed some more time in development. A simple re-cut could have fixed many of the issues with the film, but there are some problems in the script that couldn’t have been helped.
The Sweet Requiem opens in theaters on July 12.