INDIEWATCH: 'Walk with Me' is about practice, not people
"Walk with Me" is slow. But that's right on for a documentary about mindfulness, monks and their teacher, Zen Buddhist master and poet Thich Nh?t Hanh. After peace efforts during Vietnam in 1966, Hanh was forced into exile, the documentary states...
"Walk with Me" is slow.
But that's right on for a documentary about mindfulness, monks and their teacher, Zen Buddhist master and poet Thich Nhát Hanh.
After peace efforts during Vietnam in 1966, Hanh was forced into exile, the documentary states. He settled in France, where he created his mindfulness center Plum Village. It's there that directors Marc J. Francis and Max Pugh focus on the little moments.
People drinking tea. Mindfully. Taking the time with their eyes closed, to taste and swallow. Shots of sizzling tofu on a skillet or a monk grinding peanuts. The lack of other stimuli forces you to regard each sound. (And you can't help but compare this to your own non-monklike life.)
There are pokes at humor in shots of a man fidgeting, yawning and rubbing his head surrounded by rows of those in still meditation. And there are the pauses.
Every 15 minutes at the spiritual center, a bell chimes which prompts those to be still. It's a wonder to see musicians set down their violins and sink into the moment.
More pros are footage of new monks and nuns cutting their hair and taking their vows. "Shedding my hair completely, I make a great vow today, to transform all my afflictions and to help all living things," they say. And the transition moves onlookers to tears.
The film is peppered with Hanh's work read by Benedict Cumberbatch, and it all feels like a precursor to seeing the teacher in action.
In one scene, a young girl reluctantly asks how to not be so sad after her dog dies. The Zen master answers in a simple and poetic metaphor that you'll have to see for yourself. It'd be a mic-drop moment, if Hanh were into that.
Technically, directors Francis and Pugh mix it up. They use a fisheye lens to blur the edges of the frame. In shots of ladybugs in the cracks of wood, it seems to magnify the message of "pay attention." Some favorite parts are a Q&A between Buddhists and inmates and monks and nuns briefly talking about boredom.
"Walk with Me" shows religious tension on the street and during a nun's visit to her father - and they're good, albeit awkward insights.
Some cons are this film lacks a narrative, and the pace can feel trying. You wonder if a story following a newbie would've been a better call, but "Walk with Me" isn't about people, it's the practice.
As is, this film forces you into the details of each frame. Roaring thunder, twinkling rain drops, a crackling twig on fire. It takes a while, but toward the end, the pace and mindfulness feel right.
In one scene, monks eat ice cream and laugh on a carousel - you sense they're whole and present.
"At that moment, I felt perfectly at peace. Not one sad or anxious thought entered my mind," reads Cumberbatch. "Ideas of past present and future dissolved, and I was standing at the threshold of a reality that transcends time space and action."
You can't help but want a taste of that.
"Walk with Me" is well-regarded as the official selection in last year's SXSW and BFI London film festivals. It might not be for everybody, but if you can swing it, it's worth slowing down to see.
"Walk with Me"
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch (narrating), Thich Nhát Hanh
Writers, directors: Marc J. Francis, Max Pugh
Available: Google Play, iTunes, Netflix, VUDU
More info: walkwithmefilm.com
Melinda Lavine is a features reporter for the News Tribune.