I dare say that the premise of THE CUP is one you havent encountered before. Bhutans first feature length film is set in a remote monastery in that tiny country. There, near the Tibetan border lives a junior monk who is soccer mad. Many of the other monks share his passion, but Origyen is the one who eats, drinks, sleeps, and prays soccer. All this much to the disruption of the establishment, the corruption of the newest arrival, a refugee from Tibet, and the distress of his superior, whos title, gekko, is a homonym having nothing to do with reptiles.
Tell me the truth, Ive piqued your interest, havent I? Even here in the United States, one of the few countries in the world to escape the frenzy incited by the soccer World Cup competition, theres something about a band of devotees in saffron robes and shaved heads that is irresistible.
Writer/director Khyntse Norbu, whose day job is being a Buddhist lama, does a masterful job of bringing this story, which he claims to be 95% true, to the screen. All the actors are monks in the monastery where it happened and the star, a 13-year-old monk named, Orgyen Tobgyal, is a natural star, combining the drive, cleverness, and joie de vivre of a yound Michael J. Fox. Playing themselves are the abbot, the gekko, and a clairvoyant saint with a bad temper and, if we believe the press kit, has never washed his hair.
Norbu has infused this wistful tale with gentle humor, sweet irony, and a lively spirituality that is neither preachy nor heavy-handed, with many scenes showing Tibetan Buddhist rituals, thereby preserving them for posterity. One of the many nice moments in the film comes when the Gekko attempts to explain to the abbot exactly what soccer is and the abbot has trouble getting his extremely learned mind around the idea of two countries going to war over a small rubber ball. Theres also an acceptance that things are changing and that change is inevitable, even if the exile had never happened, a sentiment expressed visually by the monks moving ritual objects out of the way to make room of a television set.
THE CUP, being a story set in a monastery, has, of course, a moral. But the film itself also serves as a moral, a community survives, not because of where it is, but because it can embrace the changes that come to it without losing its moral center.