31 Oct - 6 Nov 2014 #730

Manakamana

Manakamana is a structurally formal, but groundbreaking documentary which requires a great deal of patience on the viewer’s part.
Sophia Pande

In 2014 director duo Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez released a rather interesting, structurally formal, but in its own way groundbreaking, documentary titled Manakamana. For those of us living in Nepal, we immediately associate this name with the wish granting temple in Gorkha. In the past, people have had to hike upto the Durga temple high up on a hill, but now there is a cable car that takes you to the top in 10-11 minutes. Interestingly, it is this new mechanised ascent and descent to the temple that these ethnographically inclined filmmakers have decided to document.

The final version of the documentary consists of 11 unbroken segments. The film is reliant on a rather fortuitous coincidence in that the filmmakers were shooting with a 16 mm camera in which a standard 400’ roll lasts just about the same time it takes for the cable car to pick up its passengers and deposit them either at the temple or at the origin.

The documentary is uniquely entirely observational. There are no tricks, and a great deal of patience is required on the viewer’s part. If you do manage to fall into the rhythm of the film you will be richly rewarded by the tiny but resonating pay offs.

Each segment documents some unforgettable faces, a woman dressed up in a traditional red sari clutching her devotional offerings reluctantly smiling at the camera just the once, an aged grandfather and young grandson who are awed by the view from the cable car but resolutely look away from the camera, three long haired t-shirted youths who almost preen at being filmed, these faces will stay with you.

Manakamana shares the same ethos as Into Great Silence (2005) a brilliant observational documentary by Philip Gröning that chronicles the daily lives of Carthusian monks of the Grand Chartreuse monastery in the French Alps. Both films are difficult to watch, a struggle even, requiring an almost meditative spirit (in the theater where I watched Into Great Silence more than half of the viewers fell asleep), and yet these films are important to bring to the general public, for they chronicle what we rarely see, a real human experience, bringing film as close to verisimilitude as is possible.

These type of films may not be your cup of tea; a family member of mine (who shall remain unnamed) actually fast-forwarded through The Artist (2011) the charming homage to black and white silent films that won the Best Picture Oscar that season. I cannot blame him for his impatience, yet I can’t help but wish that more of us would be willing to risk boredom for the inevitable state of grace that such films can ultimately give the attentive viewer.

Read also:

Manakamana, Hariz Baharudin

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