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:: THE CUP (also known as PHORPA)

Footy fever in a Tibetan monastery-in-exile. Strange but true. Filmed entirely in and around the Chokling monastery, nestled in the Himalayan foothills, you can be pretty sure the scenery and sets in ‘The Cup’ are going to be breathtaking. And they are. The cinematography and production design is gorgeous, as are the costumes, because the actors are real monks and this is their monastery. Even the director, Khyentse Norbu is one of the most important incarnate lamas in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. He served his filmmaking apprenticeship with Bernado Bertolucci on ‘The Little Buddha’, and the experience obviously taught him well. The story is framed and shot beautifully and Khyentse has managed to nurture the most wonderful performances from his cast of novices, every character is so full of life and dimension, and the cameos of monastic detail are so exquisitely observed that they could only have been viewed from the inside.

Central to this charming tale is 13-year-old Orgyen (Jamyang Lodro) and his relationships with the other monks as he slowly infects them all with his world cup soccer obsession. So obsessed is Orgyen, he wears a Ronaldo singlet under his robes and sneaks out at night to watch the matches on TV in the village. His main partner in crime is Lodo (Neten Chokling) and they are eventually caught sneaking out one night by Geko (Orgyen Tobgyal) who threatens them with expulsion if they do it again. Geko represents the bridge between the old and the new in Tibetan Buddhist culture, and whilst he talks tough, he shares a sneaking love for the game and explains the monks' passion to the revered but aging Abbot. Eventually a television is procured so that the monks can watch the World Cup Final, resulting in a string of touching and hilarious vignettes, and whilst the climax borders on the spiritual, we are spared the potential preaching. The conflict and turmoil in Tibet is explored with two refugees Palden (Kunsang Nyima) and Nyima (Pema Tshundup) who escape over the border to India and join the monastery. They play a vital role in the footy escapades, but give unsettlingly real performances as they basically play themselves, as did most of the characters. The contrast between the humorous, sunny outlook of the Buddhists-in-exile and the subdued Tibetan refugees underpins the whole film.

Not surprisingly, this is the first ever Bhutanese feature-length film and is entirely in the Tibetan language. There was, however, a fair amount of Australian support in terms of production crew and equipment, and sharp eyes will spot Tracy Mann as the talking head before the World Cup telecast. In the tradition of feel good urbane stories, this film takes the plight of the everyman to a new level, as well as being a teen flick with a hell of a difference. There are no girls, only soccer, Buddha and friendship. It works like a charm.