That's right, Buddhist humor. It's about two novices in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery who'll do any thing to catch the World Cup soccer tournament games, even if it means hoisting their robes and sneaking out at night.
Contemplation of existence is one thing, but Ronaldo's quite an other! For the impish, 14-year-old Orgyen (Jamyang Lodro), who sports a T-shirt of the Brazilian soccer superstar under his robe, watching the world's greatest teams at play is about as transcendental as it gets.
The year is 1998. The World Cup, which is held every four years, is being televised, live, from France. But Orgyen's monastery isn't exactly wired for satellite. After all, this is Bhutan, a small, independent kingdom in the Himalayas, where the Tibetans are obliged to remain while their country remains under Chinese occupation.
Orgyen and his pal Lodo (Neten Chokling) stuff pillows in their beds and sneak out to the nearest video rental store, where a semi-final match is being shown. But they're caught by Geko (Orgyen Tobgyal), the monastery disciplinarian.
Orgyen has already been less than attentive to his rituals lately, thanks to his subversive soccer fever. And lately, a lot of soccer graffiti has been chalked up on monastery walls. Geko is obliged to consult with the venerable abbot (Lama Chonjor).
The abbot, who is better versed in the verities of Buddhism than the goal-scoring form of the French national team, inquires about this tournament. Why do grown men representing their countries battle one another for a leather ball? What do they get out of all this?
"They get a cup," Geko tells him.
A cup? The old man reflects on this dilemma. What is to be done about youthful exuberance? Has Buddhism become completely despoiled by Western culture? A decision hangs in the balance.
Uncertain of his fate, Orgyen goes for broke and suggests an outrageous deal to Geko. If the abbot allows the monks to rent a satellite dish financed by contributions from everyone they could all watch the France vs. Brazil final at the monastery.
In return, the novices would apply themselves to their spiritual devotions with renewed zeal. The teenager waits tensely for a response from above.
You don't have to love "the beautiful game" to appreciate this audience charmer. You just need to appreciate the desire of the young to have a good time and still get to their meditational chants by morning.
The writer and director of "The Cup" is Khyentse Norbu, one of the most important incarnate lamas in Tibetan Buddhism, who's considered the incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, a great religious reformer and saint of the 19th century.
He was introduced to moviemaking when he worked with Bernardo Bertolucci on the film "Little Buddha."
That experience informed this production, which was filmed at Chokling Monastery (located in a Tibetan refugee settlement) and features a cast mostly drawn from the monastery.
Few of the performers understood the script, which Khyentse Norbu wrote in English. They were instructed what to do, scene by scene, and performed in their own language. The actor who plays Orgyen, for instance, was a recent refugee from Chinese-occupied Tibet and actually became a monk during the course of the movie.
Khyentse Norbu layers in many passing themes, including the clash between the spiritual and the material, and the tension between spirituality and commercialism.
He also establishes the political and moral milieu in which these characters live. We spend time with Palden (Kunsang Nyima) and Nyima (Pema Tshundup), two Tibetan refugees who like many others are sent to this monastery for their education. They represent an entire generation of Tibetans in exile from the Chinese, who invaded Tibet in the 1950s, killing more than one-sixth of its inhabitants and destroying 10,000 monasteries.
But this movie wins you over by letting Orgyen and his nutty obsession take over the story. And if you're in the right frame of mind, you'll want to help him heave that unwieldy satellite dish on to the monastery roof.
THE CUP (PG, 94 minutes) In Tibetan with subtitles. Contains nothing objectionable; quite the contrary.
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