The subject matter of the film spans five years and is about real people. At the start, an elderly lama has just died and his young most attentive disciple, Tenzin Zopa by name, is heartbroken. The high priests of Tibet choose Tenzin to search for a child aged no more than one year old who can be recognised as the late lama reborn and the film crew follows him on his quest.
After much praying and studying of auspicious signs and symbols, Tenzin is sent eastwards into the high mountains of Nepal, to the Tsum valley on the border with China where the scenery is spectacular. This, in fact, is the region he comes from, and where the lama used to live in retreat when Tenzin was a young boy. There's a touching scene where the disciple visits the lama's former hut high on the mountainside and cries to see it so dilapidated and unused. He has been told to look for a child whose parents' name begins with an A. It is surely no coincidence that, after some false starts, he eventually finds a promising candidate in his own home village. This little toddler (who looks quite like my grandson Eddie!) has a remarkable command of words for his age and is sturdy and bright-eyed. He grabs the dead lama's rosary beads and won't let go of them. This is a Sign. He also cries less than some of the other babies who have been examined and has respectful and good looking parents, also seemingly more intelligent than their peers. The grandmother is a strong character too.
The point is, I think, that the reincarnated lama has to be an unusually intelligent and healthy child of a trustworthy family.
Dalai Lama himself who has symbolically cut the last tuft of hair from his little shaven head with a pair of scissors. Dressed like a miniature monk, the child has chosen the correct accoutrements (bell, beads, boxes, etc) from a selection of objects representing his former self and when he sees photographs of the lama and himself side by side is heard to say, "They're both me!" (though I had to take that on trust from the subtitles, because of course he didn't say it in English). Being a sceptic I assume he'd been taught to say something along those lines.
In any case I found it compulsive viewing. Half way through watching this film I realised what it all reminded me of––the story of the baby Jesus in the New Testament. There too had been an extraordinary child born in poverty to intelligent, pure-hearted parents, discovered by persons in authority and held in awe by high priests and local country folk alike. When recognised, Jesus is reported to have been given gold, frankincense and myrrh; this two year old, 21st century, Himalayan child receives not only the appropriate religious tokens from Tibet but toy diggers and a remote-control car to play with, as well. He travels to his destiny by helicopter.