Film Review: Paths of the Soul
Paths of the Soul
Chinese director Zhang Wang’s hypnotic film follows a small group of Tibetans as they make a months-long, physically grueling pilgrimage to Lhasa. Coming from an impoverished village, these men, women, and children use a rickety tractor to carry their supplies, while they themselves walk, throwing themselves to the ground every few steps in prayer. Their journey takes them through mountains and fields, through freezing cold and rain, and through any number of travails. (A rockslide lands debris on them. Their tractor is wrecked. A baby is born. One pilgrim even dies.) But they remain stoic, practical, humble; they never complain, or allow their spirit to be broken.
Throughout, director Zhang observes with patience, humanity, and beauty: His camera stays fixed on these villagers and their prostrations, but he also makes sure to take in the breathtaking beauty of the landscape through which they’re traveling. He’s also not too interested in differentiating these people, though we do learn early on that they’re making this trek for various reasons; their ability to function as a ragged collective lies at the heart of their resilience. The film isn’t Buddhist, or even religious, per se. But by showing us—and letting us experience, to some extent—this intense journey, Paths of the Soul achieves a kind of spiritual grace all its own.