"The Cup" is an extraordinary movie, for myriad reasons. It marks the directorial debut of Khyentse Norbu, a Tibetan Buddhist lama. It is the first film to be shot in Norbu's native Bhutan. It stars an ensemble of mostly amateur actors, many of them taken from the Chokling Monastery, a Tibetan refugee settlement in the Himalayan foothills.
But given its spiritual and political pedigree, "The Cup" is even more extraordinary for being a simple tale, well told, about a group of monks who just want to watch the World Cup soccer finals. That's it. No anti-China polemic. No Buddhist metaphor. Just a good yarn about an ornery young initiate (Jamyang Lodro) who uses his pluck and innate sense of mischief to bring the outside world into an isolated, rarefied community.
Splendidly filmed and well-acted, "The Cup" may remind some filmgoers of last year's "Children of Heaven," another small, intimate film in which children took center stage. Norbu has the same humanist touch as that film's director, Majid Majidi, although he is less interested in parable than in relating a whopping good story.
"The Cup" is based on true events, when a Tibetan monastery in India was captured by soccer fever. In a refreshingly simple, unfussy way, "The Cup" offers an incomparable glimpse into Tibetan and Buddhist culture, where Coke cans are as common as burning incense on altar shrines. It's a clear-eyed, unsentimental portrait and indelible for that very reason.
Starring Orgyen Tobgyal, Neten Chokling, Jamyang Lodro, Lama Chonjor
Directed by Khyentse Norbu
Rated G Running time 94 minutes
Released by Fine Line Features
Sun score ***