Butter Lamp: A Review

film reviews | movies | features | BRWC Butter Lamp: A Review

Butter Lamp is a short fictitious film by director Hu Wei about a photographer and his assistant taking pictures of Tibetan nomads in front of various backgrounds.

What’s important to point out is this movie’s effectiveness of showing the simple yet interactive lifestyle of the characters, who are photographed throughout. Worldwide Butter Lamp has been recognised as a work of art and in its short life has already won 70 awards and been selected for 200 film festivals. Probably one of its biggest and latest achievements has been its nomination for an Oscar as a ‘Live Action Short’.

The film itself shows the interactions between various families from a Tibetan village as the photographer and his assistant attempt to create family portraits and scenes using their minimal equipment. At times there are battles between the traditional village culture with the modernist props and settings; you see the Mayor crash in with his new motorbike, a disagreement about a coat, children running riot and an elderly woman overcome with worship over the sight of Potala Palace as she is having her photograph taken for the first time in her life. All of the scenes together create a warmth and are meant to be taken lightheartedly.



Some of the backdrops are quite poignant and it could be perceived that perhaps Hu Wei was attempting to create a strong juxtaposition. Despite the violence of the Chinese against Tibet, many of the images used for the backdrops are quite significant to China. For instance, the opening scene shows a family in front of Tiananmen Square, three children are arranged with medals in front of the Beijing Olympics and another group are positioned against an image of a busy Chinese city.

Whatever the message was meant from Hu Wei, what is certain is that Butter Lamp is a pleasant insight into ancient Tibetan culture. The ending of the film highlights this aspect further as the backdrops are pulled away to show that the photographs were actually being taken amongst beautiful, Tibetan mountains. This short film is an absolute triumph and with a nomination for an Oscar, it looks like it has a bright future ahead.


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