Cup, The (1999)

Review #1,481

Director:  Khyentse Norbu
Cast:  Jamyang Lodro, Orgyen Tobgyal, Neten Chokling, Lama Chonjor, Lama Godhi
Plot:  While the soccer World Cup is being played in France, two young Tibetan refugees arrive at a monastery-cum-boarding school in exile in India.  Its atmosphere of serene contemplation is somewhat disrupted by soccer fever, the chief instigator being a young student, the soccer enthusiast Orgyen.

Genre:  Comedy / Drama
Awards:  Director's Fortnight (Cannes)
Runtime:  93 mins
Rating:  PG
International Sales:  Hanway Films

The marriage between sport and spirituality is brought together with delicate direction in The Cup, Bhutan’s first feature film, and which premiered at the Director’s Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival.  The writer-director is Khyentse Norbu, whose debut would pave the way for three more pictures to date: Travelers and Magicians (2003), Vara: A Blessing (2013) and Hema Hema: Sing Me a Song While I Wait (2016).  

In The Cup, Norbu’s filmmaking sensibilities are obvious—his eye for beautiful landscape shots, and a narrative that while wholly conventional in construct strives for light-hearted comedy through its genteel exoticism and politicizing.   

Set in a Buddhist monastery-cum-boarding school in India, the film centers on a young boy named Orgyen who become friends with two Tibetan refugees seeking protection and shelter.  Run by a senior Lama and his younger associate, the place is a tranquil space housing young students of Buddhism.  

Orgyen, however, is a soccer fanatic.  Pictures of great soccer players from around the world—the likes of Zidane and (the Brazilian) Ronaldo—are plastered on the wall, surrounding a solitary image of the Buddha.  He shares his room with a buddy and his two new friends, who aren’t immune to his worldly influences.  

Because it is the World Cup season—the ’98 edition in France to be precise—Orgyen is desperate to catch the matches, even sneaking out late at night to do so.  It is his strong desire to catch the final between France and Brazil that sees him trying to get the Lamas on his wavelength, while he rallies everyone to contribute to making his dream possible.  

The Cup is a slight if charming work, and a warm ode to the spirit of community and compassion.  Norbu frames this young boy’s perseverance against the context of religion, showing how an unadulterated innocence and passion can drive a group of people to embrace faith in a different form.

Scenes of monks, together with traditional Buddhist chanting and Tibetan-style music may be alien to Western audiences, but at the heart of Norbu’s film is another form of embracement: that of modernity, and religion’s place in its whirlwind center.  

Verdict:  Bhutan’s first feature film is a slight if charming debut by Norbu, and a warm ode to the spirit of community and compassion.




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