Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle The Cup

By Marc Savlov

FEBRUARY 28, 2000: 

D: Khyentse Norbu; with Orgyen Tobgyal, Neten Chokling, Jamyang Lodro, Lama Chonjor. (G, 94 min.)

Kundun meets Victory?Not exactly, but this pleasant cross-pollination of World Cup fever and young Tibetan monks in exile is about as close to that fantasy hybrid as anyone's likely to get for a long time. Filmed in Bhutan with a cast of unknown Tibetan nonprofessionals, The Cup takes its charming premise ­ pint-sized monks striving against all odds to watch a satellite broadcast of the 1998 World Cup match between Brazil and France ­ and runs with it like Manchester striker David Beckham fireballing down the field to lay one in on the forces of Chinese injustice. Actually, director Norbu keeps the politics well into the backfield, preferring instead to focus on the monks' day-to-day lives as they move between classes at their monastery-in-exile and several trips outside, risked in the hopes of securing that all-important television. Led by the irrepressible Orgyen (Lodro), the kids ­ who, like all kids, appear to be studying their contraband copies of glossy British soccer magazines as much as their Buddhist lessons ­ alternate between sneaking outside beneath the watchful gaze of the monastery's headmaster, Geko (Tobygal), and bartering with an Indian fellow down the road in hopes of renting his satellite equipment. In between there are pick-up soccer matches in the courtyard (played with a battered Coke can, no less ­ does Umbro know about this?), teaching the new arrivals how to manage away from home and hearth, and ubiquitous graffiti sessions in which the boys scrawl the names of their favorite teams all over the monastery's walls. The favorite to win, of course, is France, due to the country's long-standing support of Tibet in the face of so much Chinese expansionism. Watching The Cup, though, you get the feeling these kids, like their non-Buddhist counterparts elsewhere, are just scraping for something to do, something to take the edge off of their daily rut. The fact that their focus falls on the World Cup seems almost incidental at times. Nonetheless, Norbu, who was an assistant to Bertolucci during that shooting of The Last Emperor and apparently learned much of his technical expertise on that film, has crafted a foreign film that feels particularly Western in both its style and tone. The crux of the action hangs on the kids' ability to locate a television ­ everything else is incidental to the storyline, be it the occasionally breathtaking cinematography that lingers on the Indian mountain ranges or the interdisciplinary squabbles that quietly rifle through the monastery. While never dull, The Cup is a leisurely, quiet film, rife with staid, sometimes ponderous moments reflecting the seriousness of their situation in exile. Norbu knows kids will be kids, though: As soon as one Coca-Cola soccer match winds down, another begins.

3 Stars

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