By Ken Jaworowski | April 30, 2018
“In my previous life, I used to live in Kham, Tibet,” Padma Angdu, 9, says in “Becoming Who I Was,” and he’s not the only one in his remote Indian village who believes that he is a rinpoche — a reincarnated centuries-old monk.
Padma entered monastic life at 5 and, we’re told, showed indications of being a rinpoche. Other Buddhists including Urgain, his godfather, confirmed the signs, and as this documentary opens we see villagers lining up to be blessed by him.
Such reverence doesn’t last. After a rinpoche is identified, he is supposed to be retrieved by disciples of his original monastery, and taken there to live. Yet none come for Padma. That monastery is in Tibet, where China has effectively closed the borders. Soon, Padma’s neighbors begin to doubt his holiness.
The directors Chang-Yong Moon and Jin Jeon filmed Padma over some eight years, and we watch this adorable child grow distressed as his destiny remains unfulfilled. At 12, he and the steadfast Urgain plan to cross into Tibet and get to Kham.
In the second half, what had been a profile of a boy and his village becomes a road movie that is wonderful to watch though sketchy with details; even basic facts on their travels are absent. Conversations, too, are sometimes left without subtitles.
Majestic footage makes those omissions easier to overlook: shots of vast mountain ranges are magnificent, while scenes from the pair’s journey are heartwarming. The filmmakers rarely delve into the spiritual aspects of the story, but that’s O.K. You don’t have to believe in Padma and Urgain’s religion to believe in them.