Walk With Me (2017)

December 20th, 2017
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Marc J. Francis, Max Pugh; Documentary narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch; UK 2017, 94′

WALK WITH ME is a tad too lightweight and also overly uncritical of the centralised structure of  Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s process, but it certainly works as an appetiser for learning more about him and his life’s work in the field of meditation.

Directors/writers/DoPs Marc J. Francis (When China met Africa) and Max Pugh (The Road to Freedom Peak), who were also co-producers and co-editors, have created a loving, but fragmented portrait of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, who was born in Hue, Vietnam in 1926. He has established the ‘Order of Interbeing’ in the ‘United Buddhist Church’, teaching Mindfulness Training and ‘Fourteen Precepts’ originally in one monastery in the South West of France (Plum Village) and four in the United States, where Thich had been a regular participant on the lecture circuit before his debilitating stroke in 2014. Recently, centres in Paris, Hong Kong, Thailand, Australia and Germany have been added.

Mindfulness has entered the mainstream dictionary of Western business consultants; who, with many other visitors from all walks of life, around 45000 yearly, are paying guests in these monasteries for a respite from their stressful life. Here the boarders live alongside female and male monks, who bound by celibacy, : if they disobey these ‘perpetrators’ have to repeat their last ‘development stage’ in this strongly hierarchical order. Having given up all worldly possessions, and committed to a vegetarian diet, the monks are reminded, every fifteen minutes by a bell or gong, to interrupt their activities so as “not to fall into the trap of running on auto-pilot”. Outreach work is encouraged, an episode in State Prison is particularly interesting. Every two years, monks are all allowed to visit their families. In a hilarious scene, the parents of one young monk show him a life plan he had drawn up as a young teenager, where every personal and professional achievement is shown in yearly stages, ending with a total success story at the age of forty.

It is almost impossible to film any concept like mindfulness. The directors often drift into Terrence Malick territory, when showing the commitment to nature. And the long shots of preparing food, or eating rice cakes with slow deliberation, are not enough to get the audience nearer to an understanding of this state of being. Perhaps, the key lies in Thich’s autobiography. When he was an ordained monk in his native Vietnam, he was also, since 1956, the editor of ‘Vietnamese Buddhism’. In this capacity he contributed to the political life in his country. After visiting the USA at the beginning of the 1960s, he returned to Vietnam in 1963, where he got active in the Peace Movement, making neither friends with the South or North Vietnam leaderships. Or the CIA for that matter, who sabotaged him being included in a more peace-minded government in South Vietnam. He returned to the USA, meeting Martin Luther King, who proposed him for the Nobel Peace Price. With the war in his homeland becoming more and more vicious, Thich moved to France in 1968, founding his first monastery near Paris. His teachings stem from being totally frustrated by the results of any political action he had undertaken. So, yes, WALK WITH ME is certainly worth a watch but not the ‘be all and end all’ of this worthwhile state of being or the Monk’s work. AS


Copyright © 2024 Filmuforia