Sing Me a Song is a fascinating, observant documentary on the effects of modern technology in a traditionalist culture.
The film begins with fly-on-the-wall segments of a young, enthusiastic Buddhist monk practicing his studies, followed by an intimate interview with him. He wears his passion on his sleeve and anticipates an exciting technological change at his monastery in Bhutan involving the installation of electricity and the Internet. Apparently more of this anticipation is chronicled in Happiness, another doc from Sing Me a Song’s filmmaker Thomas Balmès. But Balmès’ latest takes us ten years ahead to present day where the young monk is now a teenager who can’t take his eyes off of his smartphone. He’s not the only distracted learner as nearly all of the young monks at the monastery are obsessed with their mobile device. One of the most arresting shots in the movie is when, during a sacred prayer, Balmès’ camera pulls out to show more and more teenage monks on their phones.
The wish-washy attention span of our main monk starts affecting his studies, but he’s not entirely concerned. The Internet has opened his world up to more people, pop culture, and creative arts (including a romantic connection with a female singer on his WeChat app), and he’s unsure if continuing to pursue his life as a Buddhist is a worthwhile decision.
The technological shift plays such a primary factor in Sing Me a Song that the segments focusing on Bhutan culture, weirdly enough, take the back burner. However, this also means that the notion of treating technology as a security blanket plays as a more versatile and accessible theme to anyone watching Thomas Balmès’ documentary. With the same patience he exhibited in his 2010 doc Babies, Balmès allows the innocence and curiosity of his subjects to tell their own stories. The film is loaded with stunning cinematography of wonderfully serene landscapes, and these shots hold more subdued poignance as more tech-obsessed monks appear in the frame.
Sing Me a Song may be partially guilty of trying to wring too much longevity out of traditionalists being infiltrated by modern tech advancements, but it leaves one heck of an impact. Even though this technology was an eye-opener for members of the monastery in terms of what they’re missing outside of their bubble, the film acts as a wake-up call for viewers who have forgotten what’s taking place right in front of them.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie