Review: The Cup (Phörpa, 1999)

The Cup (1999)

You don’t expect much to happen in a Buddhist monastery. So it is not surprising that Phörpa (The Cup) is very slow paced. A spirited young soccer-obsessed monk defies the monastery’s way of life in order to watch WC 1998. But the abbot, although he does not understand why men fight over a ball for a cup, eventually accepts that Buddhism can coexist with football, and the boys scramble for the funds to rent a satellite dish and TV before the final.

Like many soccer movies, the story behind the film is more interesting than the film itself. First-time moviemaker Khyentse Norbu is a revered Tibetan Lama and a reincarnated Tibetan saint. He wanted to show the human side of monks and how they live. Almost the entire cast are real monks.

The disciplinarian character Geko reflects Norbu’s own 20-year management of his Dzongsar Institute monastery, where the young monks would sneak outside in the middle of the night to play football, and he would pretend he did not know.

There is not much soccer in this movie, it is really about life in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in exile. To that end, Norbu teaches us a little about Buddhism without teaching Buddhism. There is an interesting making of extra which explains the director’s background. There is also a director’s commentary, but it is disappointing because, added 10 years after the film was made, it appears that the director cannot remember much about the filmmaking.

If you like this movie, you should check out La Gran Final, which I think is one of the best soccer movies.

In Tibetan (?) with English subtitles.

7 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 7


Release Date: 1999-08-29 (Montreal)
Director: Khyentse Norbu