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When we were kids, in Northern New Jersey, the Mets improbably made the World Series in 1969 and 1973. And in those days, before tv had come to thoroughly dominate sports scheduling, that meant that Series games were being played when we were stuck in school classrooms. But nearly everyone our age has a story about a teacher allowing kids to bring a transistor radio and earplug to school or even turning on a radio of their own so everyone could listen.

Phorpa tells the story--supposedly only mildly fictionalized--of exiled Tibetan monks whose passion for soccer and desperation to see the 1998 World Cup led some of the younger trainees to sneak out of the monastery for early games and then to convince their elders to let them rent a satellite dish and tv so they could watch the finals. That's the whole story and it is told in decidedly less hurried fashion than that synopsis. It's sure to bore some viewers even more than the sport itself, but the whole thing is so gentle, good-natured, subtly funny, and deceptively meaningful that you'll enjoy it if you give it time to develop.

The film opens with young monks playing soccer with a Coke can, both of them representing the intrusion of globalization into monastic life. Then two new students arrive, their family having paid the Tibetan version of a coyote to get them out of the country, escaping Chinese oppression. Later on the abbot of the monastery will reveal that, even though he keeps his belongings packed for imminent departure, he's begun to believe he'll never get to return to Tibet and that many of his charges will forget or never truly know their homeland. Buddhism has been forced from Tibet even as the rest of the world is forcing itself upon the cloister.

But the abbot is not angered by all this and has a sublime faith that Buddhism will adapt to the changing realities. His second in command punishes the young monks who are caught sneaking back from town after watching an early match, but is gradually revealed to be a fan himself. When he presents the abbot with the boys' proposal to watch the final on site we know that he has the ulterior motive of wanting to see it himself and the abbot shows that he's not fooled either and doesn't mind the mild deception. While the exotic setting--it was filmed at the Chokling Monastery near the Himalayas in India--ancient rituals, and untrained actors--the director is a revered figure in Tibetan Buddhism and was not only allowed to film on location but to use genuine monks for his cast--all give the film a look of otherworldliness, their very modern interests and the abbot's wisdom connect them very much to our shared world. In the hands of a Westerner the movie might have turned into a lament about globalization, but in those of Khyentse Norbu it doesn't seem much of a threat.


Grade: (B+)


See also:

    -INFO: Phorpa (The Cup)[1999] (
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Khyentse Norbu (
    -WIKIPEDIA: The Cup
    -WIKIPEDIA: Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche
    - Siddhartha's Intent : A Buddhist organization under the direction of Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
    -Khyentse Foundation: Khyentse Foundation is a non-profit organisation founded by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche in 2001 to establish a system of patronage that supports institutions and individuals engaged in the study and practice of Buddha's vision of wisdom and compassion.
    -INTERVIEW: If I'm Lucky They Call Me Unorthodox: An interview with Vajra Master/filmmaker Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche about what it's like for a traditional Buddhist teacher to also live the life of a filmmaker. (Noa Jones, Shambala Sun)
    -INTERVIEW: SOCCER & SPIRITUALITY: Buddhist lama Khyentse Norbu steps into an unexpected line of work directing 'The Cup' (Rob Blackwelder, Contact Music)
    -INTERVIEW: FILM DIRECTOR KHYENTSE NORBU: INTERVIEWED: The cup half full/half empty? (Elsewhere, 6/26/09)
    -INTERVIEW: Khyentse Norbu, the Director and Writer of TRAVELLERS AND MAGICIANS: Margaret Pomeranz talks to Khyentse Norbu, the Director and Writer of the first Bhutanese Feature Film TRAVELLERS AND MAGICIANS (At the Movies)
    -INTERVIEW: Natural-Born FilmMaker: A brief chat with lama Khyentse Norbu Rinpoche (Robert Coe, Tricycle)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: Phorpa (The Cup) (MetaCritic)
    -REVIEW: of Phorpa (James Bowman)
    -REVIEW: of Phorpa (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -REVIEW: of Phorpa (James Berardinelli, Reel Views)
    -REVIEW: of Phorpa (A.O. Scott, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Phorpa (Halyna Barannik, Christian Spotlight on the Movies)
    -REVIEW: of Phorpa (Desson Howe, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of Phorpa (Tom Dawson, BBC)
    -REVIEW: of Phorpa (Cinematic Intelligence Agency)
    -REVIEW: of Phorpa (Marc Savlov, Austin Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of Phorpa (P. Nelson Reinsch, Pop Matters)
    -REVIEW: of Phorpa (J. Hoberman, Village Voice)
    -REVIEW: of Phorpa (Peter Stack, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of Phorpa (Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality and Practice)
    -REVIEW: of Phorpa (Geoffrey Macnab, Sight & Sound)
    -REVIEW: of Phorpa (Peg Aloi, Boston Phoenix)