Walk with Me

 

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The Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh in a film that reveals the things for which he stands.

 

Walk with Me

Thich Nhat Hanh and friends

  

Over the years, a number of documentary films have looked at the monastic life, the approach varying according to the aims of the individual filmmakers. Walk with Me is a work of strong individual character that represents the particular vision of Marc J. Francis and Max Pugh. They not only share the directorial credit but also photographed the film, produced it and shared in the editing of it. This has resulted in a film that is all of a piece and one that seems to be based on the idea that what is on the screen should show rather than explain.

 

The main setting is the monastery and meditation centre set up in Plum Village in southern France by the noted Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh in 1982. Although Benedict Cumberbatch is billed as the film's narrator, he only delivers philosophical thoughts and comments at intervals (we learn at the close that the words come from journals of Thich Nhat Hanh written in the 1960s and it might have been useful for their source to have been confirmed earlier). Cumberbatch finds the appropriate tone for this, but what the film does not give us is any standard commentary. Another film might have explained and discussed Buddhist principles and rituals in more detail or have touched on the many books written by Thich Nhat Hanh or on his past history. For that matter, how Plum Village functions as a retreat for visitors remains unclear and, although we eventually find ourselves at an airport, it is rather unexpected when some of the chief figures from Plum Village are seen on a rare visit to America where certain of the Brothers and Sisters have relatives and where Thich Nhat Hanh himself encounters an old friend.

 

In another film this lack of information clarifying the context might have mattered. In Walk with Me it doesn't. That's because Francis and Pugh want to capture the very feel of life in Plum Village, to enable us to see for ourselves the inner stillness born of dedication to a life-style devoted to an intense search for the underlying truth of human life. Rejecting the materialistic and the superficial, these Buddhists cultivate the present moment so that their sense of home is linked both to silence within and to awareness of a deep contact with nature and Mother Earth. The fine visuals on display in Walk with Me convey the quiet atmosphere of the rural location and echo this viewpoint, but it is often the individual faces which count for more than anything else: as the camera focuses on these individuals there is time and again a sense that those who truly see are the ones whose closed eyes are wide shut because they are immersed in experiencing something beyond the scene in front of them. By its nature Walk with Me will appeal strongly to some viewers and mean much less to others, but in adopting this unusual approach to their material Francis and Pugh have captured a good deal of what Thich Nhat Hanh and his followers represent.             

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

  

Featuring  Thich Nhat Hanh, Pháp De, Pháp Dung, Pháp Huu, Pháp Linh, Pháp Siêu, Chȃn Không, Dang Nghiêm, Dish Nghiêm and the voice of Benedict Cumberbatch (narrator). 

 

Dir Marc J. Francis and Max Pugh, Pro Marc J. Francis and Max Pugh, Screenplay Marc J. Francis and Max Pugh, Ph Marc J. Francis and Max Pugh, Ed Marc J. Francis, Max Pugh, Nicolas Chaudeurge and Alan Mackay, Music Germaine Franco.

 

Speakit Films/SunnyMarch-Thunderbird Releasing.
94 mins. UK. 2017. Rel: 5 January 2018. Cert. PG.