Monday 8 January 2018

Film: 'Walk with Me'

I was attracted to this limited release film because of its subject matter involving Buddhism, the only religion I have any serious time for - though I'll readily concede that has not been helped at all by recent events in Burma/Myanmar with its Buddhist-dominated government, just as happenings in Sri Lanka with its similarly-inclined rulers dismayed a lot of us two or three decades ago. However, that aside (if one really can push it to one side!) I was hoping that this film might have a similar profound effect on me as I'd derived from Peter Brooks' extraordinary 1979 film, 'Meetings with Remarkable Men' (on the teachings of Gurdjieff and how his present-day disciples put them into practice), which I only caught by chance in Amsterdam in the early 1980s, and which I just had to see twice. This latter film had one of the most telling effects any film has had on me. And thankfully, 'Walk with Me' doesn't come off too badly in comparison, if maybe not quite on the same exalted level.

I'd guess that in order to best appreciate this film it helps to have some prior knowledge of the direction of Buddhist belief, and in particular, what's known as 'mindfulness'. I had the advantage, if it is one, of having attended quite a number of Buddhist meditation classes through the 1980s and 90s - specifically on techniques to raise awarenesses, beginning with the act of breathing - to supplement a then regular twice daily practice of Transcendental Meditation, which I've lapsed on over the last 20 years, a situation I feel guilty about almost every day, yet being perfectly aware that it's within my grasp to return to it anytime I want to.   
But maybe not having knowledge of this technique makes no difference to ones liking of the film, or otherwise. I just don't know.

The factual film (directors M.Francis & M.Pugh) without commentary, follows a present-day Buddhist community of nuns and monks led by teacher Thich Nhat Hanh first in France at a secluded 'Awareness Centre' which they run, receiving occasional parties of interested members of the public - and then in America, starting in New York. The film is punctuated by occasional readings by Benedict Cumberbatch of teachings by this teacher, not too many of them, just a couple of sentences now and again, of his aphorisms. I thought this was very effective. 
I felt the first more-than-half of the film, set in France, was rather more successful (an infectious serenity throughout) than the American section where some of the monks and nuns met up with their relatives, their first re-acquaintance for some years being very moving - tears etc. It goes slightly off track when a group of the nuns and monks sit and meditate together on a busy New York thoroughfare, only to have a Bible-brandishing lay speaker telling the passing public that only Jesus can save - not exactly haranguing the Buddhists directly but definitely shouting out that Christianity was the only 'true' religion. The episode felt rather like grit in the eye. Needless to say, very sensibly, none of the Buddhists responded to his provocation.

I got the feeling that through most of this film the large audience I was with was every bit as transfixed as I was. It's had varied reviews, the negative ones almost getting me to not bother going - which led me to suggest that having some prior knowledge of the nature of Buddhist belief might help. But if you are curious enough whether or not you 'qualify' in this way, and if you want to see a gentle, thought-provoking piece of cinema (which may need a bit of patience too) I don't think you'll find it a waste of time at all. I certainly didn't.........................7.5.


  1. I enjoyed reading the review of this film Ray. It sounds more like something I would actually expect to find as a BBC4 documentary than in the cinema. I have checked to see if it is on here and there is one isolated evening showing later this month so I will be unlikely to see it. I must say since the Rohingya situation in Myanmar I have been hugely disappointed in the behaviour of Buddhists and their denial of what they have done.

    1. I think BBC4 (or Channel 4) is where most of those wanting to see this will catch it, Rachel, its release being very selective. But it wouldn't lose that much by seeing on the small screen as its' subject is very internal and personal. I hope you get to see it somewhere.

      Yes, the situation of those poor refugees chased into BanglaDesh is heartbreaking, and I just can't square the army's hideous actions with what I know of Buddhist teachings, which is more than a lot of non-Buddhists know, I think. Of course the 'justification' is that they are not 'true' Buddhists, which I hope is true, though the tainting of such an otherwise laudable religion is itself enough to make one despair.

  2. Ray,
    I have always been intrigued by Bhuddism too, more so than Christianity, in which I was raised. However, any religion is extreme is bad, even in “Game of Thrones”, the High Septon. At thus stage of my life I tend to view all religion as “man-made” as a device to control others. When we die, tgst’s It, nothing. We only go around once so we should make the most use of our time while we’re here.

    1. I think that just about all religion is a man-construct, Ron - though Buddhism (if it's really a 'religion' at all) appeals in not having a 'benevolent' intelligent Creator-of-all at its centre. With observation I've come round to the conclusion that IF there's God, despite all the evidence demonstrating that there isn't, then she doesn't give a flying fuck about us either as individuals or collectively, or indeed about anything else she's created - so she can go to Hell for all I care!