The latest edition of Central DOCS Club, in association with UCL Film Society, featured a screening of Walk With Me, a glimpse into the monastic life led and taught by Thích Nhất Hạnh, followed by an engaging audience discussion.
A superbly shot and edited observational documentary, Walk With Me reveals the daily activities of visitors and residents in Plum Village, a rural monastery in France, as they follow the guidance of Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Their journey towards zen is presented in an appropriately peaceful, yet thoroughly engaging, film, directed by Max Pugh and Marc James Francis.
Box office draw is supported by the sonorous tones of Benedict Cumberbatch reading Nhất Hạnh’s journal entries, appearing every so often as if to reflect the Buddhist practice of pausing upon the sound of a bell and experiencing the present moment.
What the film does wonderfully is emerge from Plum Village to show the relationship between the monastic individuals and the world many of them left behind. Some return to relatives who, despite the more conventional lives they have led, show the empathy and tolerance which their sons and daughters have devoted their lives to.
The group walks through New York’s streets calmly, as if in slow motion, a stark contrast to the modern racecourse around them. The camera does not judge, and the individuals do not speak to the filmmakers; instead, as the travelling monks sit in a city square, the observational mode captures a vociferous Christian preacher denouncing their beliefs. A member of the public confronts the preacher, before hugging a nearby stranger. Smiles and silence surpass the intolerance.