MUBI has added The Cup to its line-up – a perfectly timed release for a charming film directed by a Tibetan Buddhist lama and about Buddhist monks, a World Cup football tournament and the relevance of the beautiful game.
In 1998, a monastery in Himachal Pradesh awaits the arrival of two boys from Tibet. The escalating Chinese repression in Tibet is a reminder to the abbot and his followers of both their own relative safety in India and the fact that they can never return home.
Some of the novitiates have something else on their minds. Football-crazy and keen on following television broadcasts of the World Cup matches, they have to be content with kicking a Coke can around.
Should football flags take precedence over prayers flags? Is the star Portuguese footballer Cristiano Ronaldo a monk because he has a shaven head? (The film was made much before Ronaldo morphed into a pin-up.)
Khyentse Norbu’s directorial debut tackles weighty matters with cheeky humour. What is the World Cup, the abbot wants to know. Two civilised nations fighting over a ball, he is told. You must be joking, he replies, adding, is there sex involved?
News of the WAG phenomenon (Wives and Girlfriends of footballers) clearly hasn’t reached this corner of the world. But other outside influences have crept in, sparking a debate about how far a culture of piety can go to accommodate pleasure.
The tussle between tradition and modernity is narrated with crispness. The film lasts for about as long as a regular football game, packing in a wealth of detail and wisdom in the bargain.
Can we cover the earth in leather so that it is soft wherever we go, or should we cover our feet in leather instead? This profound query by the abbot, and its answer, sums up The Cup as well as Tibetan Buddhist philosophy itself.