by George Tysh
Tibetan Buddhist lama and director Khyentse Norbu’s first film manages to take both the high and low roads to understanding – in fact, by the time he’s done with his delightful tale, high and low seem one and the same. And learning, laughter and compassion get intertwined like the fingers of a chanting monk.
Set in a Tibetan refugee monastery in the foothills of the Himalayas, The Cup spins a modern parable of desire, but with a quite unorthodox attitude towards its consequences. Buddhism, whether Tibetan, Zen or other, sees desire and attachment as sources of human suffering. But the main character of Norbu’s story, Orgyen, a young novice monk fascinated by soccer and the recent World Cup tournament in France, can only think of getting away after his daily prayers and tasks to watch France against Italy, Brazil against Argentina, the quarterfinals, the semifinals, etc.
Orgyen isn’t alone in this obsession. His fellow monks, particularly the younger ones, seem to sully their meditations with thoughts of penalty kicks, offside calls, breakaways and other magic moments of the sport. After getting punished for sneaking off to watch the competition on TV, Orgyen and his pals go on offense for something more "dangerous" – they ask the abbot’s permission to bring a TV into the monastery so that all can watch the ultimate showdown, the world championship match.
Norbu has made a gentle, humorous film which reconciles the daily life of the world with the preservation of spiritual practices and traditions. To those of us in the West used to Judeo-Christian moral dualism – concepts of good and evil, one or the other – the lesson of The Cup will be a surprise.
George Tysh is Metro Times arts editor. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.