THE RIO CINEMA in London’s Kingsland Road district (in Dalston) is a fine example of a film theatre constructed in the Art Deco style. It was designed by Frank E Bromige, who specialised in designing cinemas in that style, and constructed in 1937 on the site of an earlier Edwardian-style film theatre, which first opened in 1909. The Rio has been showing films ever since then. Since 1976, the Rio has been run successfully, and independently of any cinema chain, as a not-for-profit charity. The cinema’s Art Deco exterior has been faithfully maintained and the interior’s original design has been reconstructed. There are two screens. The largest one, the main auditorium, looks much as it might have done when it was built in the late 1930s. There is a smaller auditorium in the basement. This has a large screen and comfortable raked seating.
Today, the 18th of March 2023, we watched a film in the smaller auditorium. Called “Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom”, this film was shot mainly in the tiny Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. It is a beautiful film, beautifully made. Without giving the story away, it is about the experience of a young Bhutanese teacher sent from the capital to teach in a remote village called Lunana. The tiny elementary school in that high altitude settlement surrounded by breathtakingly attractive mountain scenery is the remotest school in the world. The film shows how Lunana impacted on the young teacher and vice-versa.
Apart from having a good story, some humour, and much emotion, the film provides a fascinating view of Bhutan. “Lunana” allows the viewer to realise the spectacular nature of the country’s landscape and rural traditions. What particularly interested me was the depiction of a lifestyle so remote and different from what we are used to here in the west and in many parts of India, even also in the urban areas of Bhutan’s neighbour Sikkim. The subject of global warming is introduced, but in a quite subtle way. The villagers in Lunana are portrayed as being simultaneously innocent, playful, spiritual, and philosophical. Although “Lunana” is a highly enjoyable film and Bhutan is portrayed in an affectionate and appealing way, I felt that the country, which is undoubtedly spectacularly attractive, is not one that I am in a hurry to visit. It is an unusual and unique film, and it was appropriate to have watched it in one of London’s unique individual cinemas.