When The Dragon Swallowed The Sun Review

Film Still
  • When The Dragon Swallowed The Sun film still


Free Tibet's importance as an activist movement is buried under an info landslide in this artless documentary.

Sometimes the best way to discuss a heavy political issue is from a fresh angle. Haifaa Al-Mansour's Wadjda, for instance, showed the oppression of women in Saudi Arabia in the background of a larks–a–plenty farce and was all the more powerful for it. Dirk Simon’s seven-years-in-the-making attempt to rally viewers round the Free Tibet movement suffers from the director’s unrelenting earnestness. Two hours of informational onslaught feel like the documentary equivalent of a sad diary entry. In this stifling and unsculpted form, all bar the most determined students will find it hard to inhale the important facts.

The important facts date back to 1950 when after a civil war, China decided to go right ahead and incorporate Tibet as part of its empire. Resistance and bloodshed followed in the intervening years, and groups of natives choose to live in exile where they can abide by to their own values rather than those passed down by the Chinese government. (For a rundown on how those values constrict, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, a 2012 doc on the pugilistic art sensation, is well worth catching.)

Much is made of the involvement of celebrities. Richard Gere in statesman mode adorns promotional stills while Desmond Tutu, Thom Yorke, Damien Rice and Philip Glass are name-checked on posters. It’s a disingenuous ruse considering Richard Gere appears for thirty seconds and Desmond Tutu for roughly double that. That watching the Archbishop leaping round a US political rally, like a fluro-pink-clad Rumpelstiltskin, is a highlight indicates just how strapped we are for excitement here.

Interviews with participants in Tibet’s struggle, from the Dalai Lama to those involved in resistance across the world, form the bedrock of the runtime. Passion is not in short supply but the vocal vignettes suffer from a lack of direction. It’s as if Simon, with a trembling upper lip, told his subjects to just damn well get it all off their chests. Protests running up to Beijing Olympics stand in for a narrative arc. Juddering footage of activists shouting into megaphones in interchangeable locations provides zero insight, which is a problem that, despite its interminable length, this doc suffers from as a whole.

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