Narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch, Walk With Me takes one inside the retreat of Zen Buddhist Monks, a community headed up by Thich Nhat Hanh, a monk whose calls for peace and mindfulness in 1966 forced him to flee his home country of Vietnam. Setting up shop in France, Hanh's teachings have reached far and wide and so curious directors Marc J. Francis and Max Pugh took the cameras inside his retreat to observe those who wish to seek enlightenment.
Similar in some respects to Michael Whyte's 2010 No Greater Love, a documentary that took the audience inside a monastery for Carmelite nuns, Marc J. Francis and Max Pugh's Walk With Me welcomes one to the quiet, peaceful world of Buddhist monks and those who wish to make the sacrifices necessary if one is to hope to make the journey to inner peace. It’s not a difficult sell: giving up job and family and relationships and mortgages, and encouraged to look inside oneself (everyone’s favourite subject is themselves, right?), the road to inner peace would be more harmonious/easier.
And just like No Greater Love, Walk With Me is deathly dull. It's unclear what the directors hoped to achieve here as the reflection and mindfulness that Thich Nhat Hanh and his Zen Buddhism preaches doesn't make the jump from screen to audience. We see newcomers cry as they shave their heads. We see a monk act as counsellor between a harried mother and her distant son. But feeling one way or other about the tears and hugs is work.
There's a pang too that this is the same guff but in a different robe. There's the initiation rites (shaving of one's head), the demand that one abstain from sex, and when asked by a little girl who wanted to know why her beloved dog died Hanh offers the same cryptic non-answers as any religious figure (something about the pet not being really gone but in a better place, etc). The directors obviously buy into it all, shooting everything that unfolds (or doesn't unfold as the case may be) as prettily as they can; one night scene boasts a thousand coloured lanterns sparkling on a dark stream but not the sodden mess they will be in a few hours.
There are pockets of interest that, if explored fully, would have ensured a better viewing. The hovering camera occasionally picks up on devotees who lament the mind-numbingly repetitive daily chores and who wish to get out if even for a short while. A documentary on those who regret their decision to become a monk? That might have been an avenue to go down.