Tibetan Ball

The Cup takes place in a Tibetan monastery-in-exile in Bhutan, where the head abbot (Lama Chonjor) is curious, though not the least bit ruffled, to discover that some of his monks are secretly sneaking off to a nearby town to watch World Cup matches on television. Not surprisingly the abbot has never heard of the World Cup; in fact he's never heard of soccer. But together with his chief aide (Orgyen Tobgyal), he decides to allow ace soccer buff Orgyen (Jamyang Lodro), an adolescent hustler who seems better suited to being a pimp or a bookie than a monk, to rent and install a TV and satellite dish for the final match. This sweet little movie is a mild comedy, a much calmer cousin to Sister Act, with men in robes rather than women in habits. The story behind its production is also a tribute to the seductive power of cinema. Writer-director Khyentse Norbu is an important lama -- "one of the most important incarnate lamas in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition today," we are informed. He was recognized at the age of seven as the incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820-1892), which would make him, in a sense, the oldest filmmaker in the world. When he was in his early thirties, he served as an advisor to Bernardo Bertolucci, who was making Little Buddha. And how are you gonna keep 'em down in the monastery after they've had a taste of Hollywood? The Cup is his first film, and it's clear that he has studied well: The story may be slight, but its execution is both technically and dramatically savvy, despite the fact that the entire cast is made up of genuine monks with no acting experience. The Cup also is the first Bhutanese production ever, which made it a shoo-in as that nation's entry for the Academy Award's Best Foreign Film category, though in the end it didn't make the cut.


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