Finding a reincarnated Lama is no walk in Central Park, the Israeli director Nati Baratz demonstrates to us in Unmistaken Child, a documentary that gets down to the nitty-gritty of this rarified procedure. Baratz films Tenzin Zopa, the personal assistant to a late Tibetan monk (Lama Kochong), as he conducts a series of tests and consultations to locate the exceptional child (the Rinpoche) whose body will carry on his master's spirit. A methodical business: he takes indices at the site of Kochong's cremation with the exactitude of a paleontologist, carefully noting the direction of the wind and ash patterns. These clues are then submitted to a numerologist in South Korea, who, with a caveat that his reading is 95% accurate, informs Zopa that the Ripoche has been born in a region starting with the letters "TS" while his father's name starts with an "A".
With no voice-overs, Baratz allows Zopa to narrate his own journey as he travels hundreds of miles through the lush valleys of Tibet, meeting with one ruddy-faced village baby after another. He offers them candy and balloons, testing them for "unusual characteristics," but confides in us, "I cannot trust my feelings, only Buddha can sense Buddha." Baratz expresses Zopa's internal struggle, while showing us mundane footage of modern monks (sacred prayer beads stashed in plastic grocery bags, a traditional landscape painting flipped back to reveal a color TV at a monk's house); the process of re-incarnation is de-mystified, making for a frank and poetic documentary that reveals the technicalities of a spiritual ordainment little understood by Westerners.