Buddhist monasticism gets roughly the same kind of treatment
that the Catholic priesthood did in “Going My Way” in Khyentse
Norbu’s pleasant but unremarkable “The Cup.” Set in a house
inhabited by Tibetan refugees near the Indian border, the movie
tells the story of how one rambunctious novice (Jamyang Lodro),
who’s addicted to soccer, persuades the preceptor or novice
master (Orgyen Tobgyal) and abbot (Lama Chonjor) to allow the
members of the community to pool their resources to rent a
satellite TV on which they can all watch the World Cup finals.
A bit of political commentary is inserted by way of the fact
that one of the teams in competition is from France, which, as
it’s occasionally pointed out, supports Tibetan independence
from Chinese control.

There are moments of real charm in “The Cup,” and a few truly
touching sequences as well; but for the most part it’s content
to glide along on a cloud of whimsy, presenting the denizens
of the community like cuddly teddy-bears. One doesn’t get any
real sense of the religious life of the monastery, or the
belief system that undergirds the ritual and prayer, any more
than one does with Bing Crosby’s Father O’Malley. Instead the
story concentrates on a few novices, portraying them as rather
typical mischievous scamps of the “Dennis the Menace” variety,
and thereby loses the possibility of creating a real contrast
between the traditionalism represented by the abbot and
preceptor and the changes being forced upon the community by
political necessity and technological advancement.

Still, though “The Cup” lacks depth or resonance, it’s amiable
enough, and its cast of non-professionals gives it a nicely
realistic ambience. And, I’m happy to note, very little
attention is given to the televised games themselves; the
focus remains, as it should, on the monks, so at least there’s
no Rocky-style rah-rah conclusion to contend with. The modest
finish is characteristic of a picture which isn’t overwhelming
but manages to remain mildly sweet without becoming saccharine
or heavy-handedly sanctimonious.