Monks, movies and futbol

Daily Episcopalian will publish every other day this week.

By Leo Campos

There are few religious spectacles more important, more poignant, more powerful than the World Cup. For those of you who might be following my advice from earlier notes and staying away from TV you may not know that the World Cup Finals are being held in South Africa. Furthermore you may not know that “World Cup” is the shorthand for the only truly global sport – soccer/futbol/football

I was thinking about a couple of movies which might help those who need a little extra to get them in the mood. For a game that is so appealing and so dramatic it is sad to note that there have been very few movies which actually did any justice to either the sport or to the passions it arouses. There was Victory with Pele, a pastiche from The Great Escape, and not really that good.

When I do a quick search of Netflix and IMDB for movies with the word “soccer” and “football” I get things like Soccer Buddy, about a soccer playing dog, and other inanities. But of the many movies out there I do see two which I find actually seem to bring across something of value. The first is La Gran Final (The Great Match) by the Spanish director Gerardo Olivares. It is a tale spread across the globe as people from different countries gather to watch a World Cup game: from a tribe of Amazonian indios, a family of Mongolian nomads and a caravan of Tuareg people in the Sahara Desert. It has many funny moments, and it much subtle social commentary. Overall it tries to show how, for just a little while, there is a peace, well a truce, across the globe.

It reminded me of the story from World War I, though the events have been repeated more than once, where Germans and British climbed out of their foxholes to play a game on Christmas Day 1915 to play a match, declaring a temporary truce.

But my absolute favorite movie has to be The Cup by the Bhutanese director Khyentse Norbu. I am slightly biased, since the director is also a monk. It is full of richly drawn characters, with masterful performances by its young main protagonist. The story centers on a young Tibetan refugee and their misadventures at a monastery/boarding school in exile in India. While undergoing Buddhist training the young boy’s mind is filled with news about the World Cup. He attempts to explain its importance and its appeal to other monks who are confused, bemused, or downright annoyed at his constant conversations about soccer players. This boy’s meditation is constantly on the game.

What is the attraction of this sport, which seems to be unlike any other? Surely when you compare sport by sport it does not stand out as requiring anything special. It is not the fastest, or the most violent, or even the one that requires the most coordination or skill. There is the counter-intuitive requirement of moving a ball only using your feet, but that hardly seems to justify the strong passions it arouses.

I am content with the mystery of soccer/football. There may be no particularly logical reason for its appeal. It is more akin to falling in love – why are we attracted to some people and not others?

So there it is – I do hope you will take this opportunity during this most holy month to catch a couple of these movies – they are well worth the watch!

Brother Leo Campos is the co-founder of the Community of Solitude, a non-canonical, ecumenical contemplative community. He worked as the “tech guy” for the Diocese of Virginia for 6 years before going to the dark side (for-profit world).

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