dir. Jamyang Jamtsho Wangchuk, Bhutan/UK 2018, Dzongkha + English subtitles, 15 min
produced by Sonali Joshi, Day for Night
World Premiere: Locarno Film Festival, Open Doors Screenings
It was an age-old custom in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan to have leave doors open, only closing them before bed. The Open Door is a four-act short, which follows the life of a young girl through to old age, across four different decades, and four different seasons.
It was an age-old custom in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan to leave doors open, only closing them before going to bed. If doors were closed during the day, neighbours would become anxious. The Open Door is a short film that follows the life of a girl, Pema, from being a baby to adulthood, spanning over half a century. The film is divided into four chapters, each representing a season, roughly every two decades in Pema’s life.
In Winter, Pema is a baby. Her father is preparing to travel to Tibet to trade grains for rock salt and dye. The mother sends a set of prayer beads with him to be blessed at a temple in Lhasa for their daughter, fearing it may become impossible to travel to Tibet, further to rumours of an impending war between China and Tibet. A traveller stops by to seek shelter for the night. A dog barks in the distance.
In Spring, Pema is a young girl. The Indian government has provided aid to Bhutan to build roads. Birds chirp and a light breeze drifts by. However, Pema is haunted by an encounter with a motorbike, which she mistakes for a ‘strange beast’ and locks herself in the house. Her mother scolds her for locking the door and reminds her that it is against tradition to lock the door during the day. The flow of water from the village stream outside that provides drinking water can be heard.
By Summer, a Buddhist ritual is being performed to ward off sickness and other hindrances. Pema already has three children, two of whom are studying in India. Other families are hiding their children or bribing local officials to take their children out of school so they can help at home on their farms. People have now started wearing slippers and shoes. The stream now flows strongly.
Finally in Autumn, Pema is now a grandmother who finally has time for herself, which she uses to teach herself to read Buddhist scriptures. A few stacks of unopened boxes of shoes remain in her room as she continues to choose to walk barefoot. Shops and hotels surround the home as cars pass by. In the background, news headlines are being broadcast on the local TV channel. Pema receives a call from her daughter who reminds her to lock the doors, cautioning that times have changed as she states, “It’s not safe anymore.” Following this, Pema switches off the TV and turns on the radio where a beautifully haunting, old traditional song plays. There is no trace of the old stream outside nor the birds.