WHEEL OF TIME (2003)
In an interview with the BBC about Wheel of Time (Rad der Zeit), a fascinating, if slightly unfocused, documentary about the Buddhist Kalachakra initiation of 2002, German filmmaker Werner Herzog stated that "I was not attracted to make a film about Buddhism. I was rather reluctant to step in because I have very little knowledge of Buddhist philosophy." On one hand, that works in the docs favor because Herzog isnt able to bog it down with unfamiliar theological musings, but on the other hand, since hes not in the "inquisitory" mode, at times he doesnt seem to have anything particular in mind at all. The title refers to the central metaphoric symbol in a sand mandala which attracts countless faithful to Bodh Gaya, India, the site where Buddha found enlightenment himself. After presenting a few festivities taking place before Dalai Lamas arrival, Herzog, not surprisingly, discovers and skillfully captures the harsh terrain surrounding the sacred Mount Kailash which has to be overcome by many pilgrims, some of whom pray every step of the way (we find out that it took one more than 3 years to reach the site). The filmmakers brief narration is adequate, but not particularly insightful; however, his studious images make up for his lacks. Wheel of Time ultimately moves to Graz, Austria, the first western country to host the Kalachakra event. There, Herzog interviews a Tibetan monk who was imprisoned by the Chinese authorities for 37 years. An important topic for sure, but again, it doesnt quite fit here just like many of the other pieces. Dalai Lama also speaks with the filmmaker and, as always, hes a pleasure to listen to.
The film is now available on DVD from Wellspring.