Saturday, September 14, 2013

Manakamana


Grade: 81/B+

There are films that require patience, and then there are films that laugh in impatient viewers’ faces. Manakamana falls decidedly in the latter category- there’s no dialogue for the first twenty minutes, and even after that it’s spare. An experimental documentary produced by the makers of Leviathan, the film is undoubtedly one of the year’s most challenging movies. It’s also deeply rewarding.

It’s a deceptively simple movie: 11 roughly ten-minute static shots, each one documenting a ride on a cable car to the sacred Manakamana temple in Nepal. “Manakamana” originates from the words “mana” (heart) and “kamana” (wish), and the temple’s goddess supposedly grants the wishes of all those who make the pilgrimage to worship her.

Some of the passengers talk to each other. Some are silent. Some are the elderly faithful. Some are American tourists. Some of them have animals to be sacrificed (one couple with a chicken, or an entire car full of goats). Others just have them along for the ride (three longhaired young men with a kitten).

Manakamana is first and foremost an experience, as directors Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez ask viewers to sit down and study faces, whether they’re moving or perfectly still, and what those faces mean. Who are these people? What do their words or silences mean? What do they wish?

Furthermore, there’s something fascinating about how the technology has changed the nature of the pilgrimages. The cable car makes the temple more accessible to curious tourists or the young faithful. But there’s sadness to some of the older passengers, who note that it’s not much of a pilgrimage now that the journey is only a ten-minute ride away.

Has technology made religious experiences less meaningful, or just easier to experience? There are no answers in Manakamana, but it pushes the viewer to ask those questions, and the experience is absolutely liberating.
 
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