The Best Movie
With refreshing humor and beautiful scenery, Phörpa
follows sports fever in a Tibetan monastery.
Bhutanese-Australian comedy Phörpa (The Cup) is a
film about goals spiritual, cultural and athletic. The
plot ostensibly revolves around the efforts of Orgyen, a soccer-crazy
teenage monk in a Himalayan monastery, to watch the 1998 World
Cup live via satellite.
Given the director's identity and the film's setting, it is inevitable
that some Buddhism is served. The world's most popular sport is
stripped down and described as "two nations fighting for a ball."
It has simple but clever dialogue that inspires meditative pause.
Yet notably in these times when Tibet remains the reigning celebrity
cause-of-the-moment, PhOrpa keeps away from the temptation to
romanticize Tibetans and their religion on film. The focus is
kept on great human characters and good, old-fashioned storytelling.
The first full-length feature by Bhutan-born Khyentse Norbu, PhOrpa
was done with a fresh eye and an uncluttered voice. The director
also wrote the script, which he says is 95% based on his own experiences
as a young monk. The 39-year-old was introduced to movie-making
as an apprentice to director Bernardo Bertolucci on the set of
1993's Little Buddha.
Before financiers committed to the $300,000 budget (spent mostly
on post-production in Australia), the director considered mortgaging
some of his monastery's relics to fund this movie project. His
congregation reveres him as the reincarnation of an important
19th-century Tibetan saint, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo.
A divinely inspired movie? Says co-producer Raymond Steiner: "'Mo,'
which is the casting credit, is not a person. It's a Tibetan system
of consulting the gods." Using prayer beads, the monks employed
the method to decide key matters about the film like the choice
of sound editor and the auspicious days to shoot. PhOrpa got spontaneous
standing ovations after screenings at film festivals from Sydney
to Cannes to Sundance well-deserved recognition for a smartly
rendered piece of cinema that has heart and soul.
Alexandra A. Seno
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