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Cup, The

Director: Khyentse Norbu


The Cup was one of the surprise hits of the last Cannes Film Festival. With many new works by established filmmakers proving to be major disappointments, this unlikely little movie charmed even the most jaded critics. It is the directing debut of Khyentse Norbu, a Buddhist monk, and the first feature film to be made entirely in the Tibetan language. A largely self-taught filmmaker (though he did serve an apprenticeship on Bernardo Bertolucci’s Little Buddha), Norbu has made a simple and wholly delightful comedy inspired by a real story of football fever taking a grip on some members of a Tibetan Buddhist monastery during the 1998 World Cup.
Two young boys arrive at a Tibetan monastery-in-exile nestled in the picturesque foothills of the Indian Himalayas. Contrary to their expectations of an austere and traditional existence, they are surprised to encounter the likes of cheeky Orgyn (Jamyang Lodro), a soccer-obsessed 14-year-old trainee monk who is determined to watch the World Cup on television.
Stealing out at night to attend public viewings, the boys soon attract the attention of Geko (Orgyen Tobgyal), the monastery’s disciplinarian. Expulsion is looming for the boys unless Geko and the compassionate Abbot can be persuaded to accept a compromise solution.
Civilised nations fighting over a ball is how Geko explains the World Cup to a befuddled Abbot, before reassuring him that the game of football includes some violence but no sex. Asked by the wise old man how he knows so much about the subject, Geko can only smile. This marvellous film is filled with wry observations, and not only about football. Norbu is concerned to provide a realistic portrait of a culture that struggles with great dignity to maintain its traditions and identity. The pain of exile has affected the Abbot, who has resigned himself to never returning to a Chinese-controlled Tibet. Overall, though, the combination of Tibetan wisdom and warm, irreverent humour make The Cup a decidedly positive experience.

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