Walk with Me
13th October 2017 6.15pm at empire
15th October 2017 3.30pm at Ciné Lumière
A peaceful documentary about the lives of Zen Buddhist monks in a French countryside monastery, Walk with Me, written and directed by Marc J Francis and Max Pugh, documents master Thich Nhat Hanh – who introduced the practice of mindfulness to the West – and his followers.
Opening with the initiation of men and women to the monastery, having their heads shaved, we follow the group through their daily rituals of prayer and contemplation as well as their travels for the purpose of teaching others. The monks take a vow of celibacy and have no money or possessions. Every 15 minutes a bell rings, a signal to stop and come back to the present moment. Individual brothers and sisters adapt to their new life, and learning stillness is not always easy, as seen with one young initiate who can’t refrain from fidgeting.
Throughout the film are narrated words of wisdom such as “One must grow beyond a youthful uncertainty…need maturity and determination to survive” and “suffering is enlightenment”.
The documentary is very interesting and informative, but it could provide more detail and background information to draw the viewer in, to elicit more emotional involvement. It is understood that the idea is to slow down and be quiet, but this might be more effective on film if the viewer were invited to participate in a visceral way. For example, during a public prayer meeting with chanting, a few spectators cry, but we have little understanding of why they are crying. However, the content of the piece is fascinating with many invaluable, spiritually enriching ideas.
The fact that master Thich Nhat Hanh – whom one monk describes as Yoda – is quite youthful for his 90 years, speaks well for his way of life. Obviously beloved and admired, on his travels he advises people. There is one emotional moment when a little girl asks: “How do I stop being sad because my doggy died?”. The master responds that her pet has not gone away: “Like a cloud that changes form, so did your doggy”.
There is some superb cinematography in Walk with Me with soulful shots of French countryside and close-ups of magnificent details of natural beauty. The final scene sums up the intention of the work with a visually exquisite long lingering image of a sunrise. Perhaps the intent is to teach us all to become comfortable with stillness.
Walk with Me is released nationwide on 5th January 2018.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2017 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for Walk with Me here: