Foreign movies often have an immediate advantage because the novelty alone makes them appealing to watch. Showing a scene of American children playing soccer in fresh pressed uniforms with a shiny new ball is ho-hum. But take some real Tibetan monks in the Himalayan foothills scrambling to shoot a crushed Coca-Cola can, and you'll have North American audiences interested.
Thus The Cup kept myself and my 12-year-old son glued as we viewed the story of Orgyen, a 13-year-old monk who is quite obsessed with football (known as soccer to North Americans), especially at World Cup time. During daily rituals, Orgyen is more likely passing around the latest scores on bits of paper than following the Abbot (played by Lama Chonjor, the real leader of the Chockling Monastery where this movie was filmed) in worship exercises.
When temptation gets the better of Orgyen, he manages to convince three other monks to sneak out at midnight to watch the semi-finals on a local shop's black and white set. Upon their return they are caught by Geko (Orgyen Tobgyal), the monastery's disciplinarian, who punishes them with additional cooking duties. But the final game is still to be played, so Orgyen, desperately hoping for a miracle, approaches Geko and the Abbot with an unusual request: Can they can rent a satellite dish and television for just one night?
The Cup represents the first feature-length movie for the country of Bhutan as well as Khyentse Norbu (who, according to the film's website is a "pre-eminent lama of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition," as well as a part time director). Passionately interested in using film as a way to "touch people," Norbu sought spiritual guidance in every aspect of the production. Faith and prayers were used for everything from clearing the unpredictable Himalayan weather, stabilizing the power from inevitable blackouts, to choosing the film stock used in the camera.
Using actual monks living at Chockling Monastery, these untrained actors are often "one take wonders", which accounts for much of the film's sincere humor and irresistible charm. For families willing to read the English subtitles and overlook the mild irreverence and three minor profanities, The Cup is a touching and interesting perspective on a culture not oft seen on the screen.