Reviewed by Rachael Kaines
The introspective and sedate documentary Walk With Me, from directors Marc J. Francis and Max Pugh, works as a soothing balm to a hectic mind, much like the mindfulness practice that the Zen Buddhist pioneer Thich Nhát Hanh introduced to the west. Thich Nhát Hanh was forced to leave Vietnam in the sixties when his efforts towards peace were not appreciated. Now 91, Walk With Me shows the spiritual leader and the Buddhist retreat that he built in south-west France.
At first, the excruciating pace of the documentary seems like it will not let up, that we will only get shots of monks making food, walking around, playing the violin, or else Benedict Cumberbatch uttering snatches of the cryptic words of Thich Nhát Hanh. But patience is rewarded, as we get more words from the monks, the nuns, and the people they encounter and get to experience the kind of insight you would expect of a documentary about Buddhism, albeit only in brief moments. There are a few stand out moments, in particular, the joy of one of the nun’s father at seeing his daughter after a long absence and the incredible meeting of people that knew each other decades before. A moment when a woman confronts a ranting Christian street preacher feels like an allegory of every idiotic argument you’ve ever seen on the internet.
The Plum Village, in France, where Thich Nhát Hanh and his monks and nuns live appears to be something of a tourist attraction, people coming to stay to gain some enlightenment or coping mechanisms for the modern world. It feels as if maybe the filmmakers may consider treating these people with disdain, but they do not, simply observing without any bias.
Lacking anything remotely like a traditional narrative, Walk With Me still manages to offer insight, although unfortunately too little and inconsistently. The moments it does are worth your time, plus the film easily manages to convey the slow, silence of meditation, so is a relaxing experience in general.
Directors: Marc J. Francis, Max Pugh
Writers: Marc J. Francis, Max Pugh
Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Thich Nhát Hanh, Brother Pháp De
Walk With Me is in cinemas from Friday 5th of January