Friday, February 20, 2009

Zen Movies, Bears And Popcorn

It's the weekend so I thought I might offer up  a list of  my favourite Buddhist movies.  The Buddha's Oscars maybe?  And of course that would mean this little bear is sitting in a bowl of popcorn.  Remember the episode of Seinfeld years ago where someone eats a chocolate bar with a knife and fork.  Well this little Ursus is eating his popcorn with a spoon.  How sophisticated!  It's hard to get that buttery goodness off your paws!

Enough foolishness for now, at least.  One of my all time favourite movies is "Words of My Perfect Teacher" made by Canadian film maker Lesley Ann Patten.  She made the movie about her slightly eccentric  beer drinking, soccer loving, Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Dzongsar Khyentse Norbu who incidentally made another of my favourite Buddhist movies, called "The Cup" about a young soccer loving monk.  (I think there's some autobiography in this movie!)  It's charming and delightful.  One thing that blew me away is that Khyentse Norbu had never made a movie before but acted as the "Buddhist" consultant to Bertolucci on the movie, "The Little Buddha" (also a good watch).  Just hanging around the set and watching, he figured out how to make his own movie!  Khyentse Norbu also made a movie called "Travelers and Magicians" more recently and while it is a bit long and windy, it is still worth the watch.

Another one of my favourites is "I heart Huckabees".  Although Buddhism is never mentioned in the film, it really is all about aspects of the Dharma and Buddhist practice, tucked in there by the Buddhist film maker, David O Russell.  To boot it stars Lily Tomlin, Dustin Hoffman, Isabelle Hupert, and Jason Schwartzman.  I don't generally watch a movie more than once, but this is one I have, and own!

I loved "How to Cook Your Life" with Ed Espe Brown, of Tassajara cookbook and bread book fame.  It's about a Zen and bread baking retreat he leads.  Several people I knew ran home and baked bread the day after they saw this movie.  It's a tasty treat.  Brown is at his best when he sheds a tear over a little cast iron tea pot.  You will want pizza after you see this movie if nothing else!

A truly heart wrenching movie is "What Remains of Us" made by a Tibetan woman, Kalsang Dolma who lives in Montreal.  She smuggled a video recorder with a message from the Dalai Lama into Tibet and filmed the responses of Tibetans, some of them who have never actually seen the Dalai Lama.  It's wonderful and sad all at the same time.  Don't see this when you're looking for light entertainment.

"Milarepa" is  the story of the Tibetan poet and sage  of the same name and is only the first half of Milarepa's life.  Part two is in the works.  It's filled with intrigue and beautiful scenery.   This is well worth seeing, ends as a cliff hanger, but with tons of dharma yet to come.

Other honorable mentions are "Ten Questions for the Dalai Lama" made by Rick Ray.  It is always good to see the Dalai Lama so it's worth the watch and the title kind of says it all.  Also, we saw an unusual little flick called "Zen Noir".  It kind of follows an old detective story theme and is a little odd, but we enjoyed it well enough.  I heard a rumour that a couple of monks found it a bit off colour.  Of course, this intrigued me, and made me really want to see this movie. 

"Call It Karma" made by Vancouverite, Geoff Brown, is the story of Gyalten Rinpoche's  1,000 mile trek and pilgrimage and definitely worth a look.    And the last one I'll mention is called "Enlightenment Guaranteed".  It's a German movie about 2 brothers who go to a Zen monastery in Japan.  One brother loves the idea of Zen and the other brother tags along after being dumped by his wife.  It's a strange little ditty, amusing in some spots.  My daughter watched it with me and her comment was "it looks like someone made it on a super8 camera" so be prepared for it's home movie look, but the dharma is tucked in there.

So get out the corn popper and enjoy!


  1. My Lama always refers to "the Matrix" - you may want to check it out.

  2. You know when I hear you say this, it seems to me I have heard Robert Thurman mention "the Matrix" I will have to check it out. Thanks, Robin.

    Also remembered another one last night. A dark little thing (but good) called Samsara where a monk gives up monastic life for the love of a woman.

  3. I really wanted to see "How to Cook Your Life" - thanks for reminding me of the title!

  4. I first saw "Enlightenment Guaranteed" in the company of our zen teacher and 6 monastic Zen friends. We tended to laugh at places where the rest of the audience didn't (e.g., when the brothers learned to eat out bowls oryoki-style); i had a few extra laughs since i caught some of the German humnour which the subtitles missed.
    as to the film quality, this might explain:

    "The grainy opening sequences ... give the feeling of watching an old-fashioned computer screen. It is only later on that you realise that the lo-fi images, which are intercut with scenes of a more conventional image quality throughout the film, are what Uwe [one of the two protagonists] himself videos.

    In fact, [the film| is shot entirely on video. [Director] Dörrie switches back and forth between the extremely grainy home video made by Uwe and her own much more sophisticated techniques with you only ever feeling you are experiencing video as a medium when you see the world through Uwe's camera, such is her skill."