Marc J. Francis and Max Pugh’s documentary, Walk with Me, sets itself up as if it were to be an exploration of a truly interesting character. A title card introduces Thich Nhát Hanh, an exiled Zen Buddhist Monk from Vietnam, who, having relocated to France, has established the Plum Village Monastery. Instead, the film meanders through a slice of life portraiture of monastic living, while failing to offer the audience anything that feels particularly engaging or insightful.
The footage, collected over three years of access to Plum Village, has been carefully pieced together, and it is clear that a level of restraint has been employed and an attempt to capture the essence of the monastery and mindfulness made. There are some beautifully captured moments that possess a real intimacy. A reunion of a Sister with her father, whom she only sees every two years, and a visit to a juvenile detention centre are both pleasantly affectionate, and point to the core practices of mindfulness; to be present in the moment.
However, Francis and Pugh’s documentary is mired by the frustrations of a medium that is dependent on more than what is being offered here – in trying to distil the fabric of a community that’s built on the spiritual experience and enlightenment of the everyday, you are never given anything substantial to sink your teeth into. As such, Walk with Me ends up feeling like a meditation on nothing that soon slides into the mundane.
The film generates its closest semblance of structure through passages from Thich Nhát Hanh’s personal journals, “Fragrant Palm Leaves,” narrated intermittently by Benedict Cumberbatch. But, it does little to ground the film, and adds a layer of contrived and unnecessarily grand profundity to a film that seems to be working so hard to avoid this.