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January 4, 2018

Walk With Me review – Cumberbatch narrates quiet doc about mindfulness teacher


Peter Bradshaw/ The Guardian

3 out of 5 Stars

Benedict Cumberbatch narrates this thoughtful documentary about zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, whose teachings have popularised the mindfulness movement.

It is a relief, and a palate cleanser, to watch a documentary concerned with quietness, stillness and contemplation. Yet however slowly paced, a film’s grammar and rhythm will perhaps never truly approach the structure of solitude and contemplation that is the point here. Walk With Me is a study of the 91-year-old Vietnamese zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, and his retreat in Plum Village in south-west France. His teachings are credited with the phenomenal success of mindfulness and the spiritual concentration on the present moment.

The rich, mannered voice of Benedict Cumberbatch, a longtime admirer, recites Hanh’s writings. There are long, calm takes of visitors to the retreat, and the monks – who have refrained from worldly pleasures – in permanent situ. The film has some startling moments, particularly two people who worked together in Minnesota decades before who meet up in this retreat by pure chance, not recognising each other at first – and one believing the other to have died long ago. It is an eerie afterlife scene.