DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

MANAKAMANA (director/editor: Stephanie Spray/Pacho Velez; cinematographer: Pacho Velez; Runtime: 108; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Lucien Castaing-Taylor/ Véréna Paravel; Cinema Guild; 2013-Nepal/USA-in Nepali & English-English subtitles when necessary)

"For the curious viewer."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An engaging experimental 'head' documentary, produced by the lab directors, Lucien Castaing-Taylor, and Verena Paravel, of Harvard's Sensory Ethnography Laboratory. It was uniquely shot solely in the confines of a 5-by-5-foot cable car, built in 1998, in central Nepal, that shows 11 nine-minute rides to the legendary hilltop Manakamana temple (mana means heart and kamana means wish)--with seven rides going uphill (3,500 feet or 2 miles) and 4 downhill. The cable car carried mostly locals such as pilgrims (men wearing dhaki topi hats), couples, a father and son, musicians (3 chatty long-haired hipster young rockers with their pet cat and two elderly men who played their traditional string Nepali instruments on the way down), tourists (even one American woman), and 5 goats (probably slated to be used in the temple's sacrificial rites).

The temple is the site of the Hindu goddess Bhagwati, who has the ability to grant the pilgrim's wishes. From the riders we learn that the cable car makes it easier to visit, as in the old days it was at least an arduous three-day hike. Of note, we never see the temple. What happens is the cable car will arrive at the station, which is too dark to see anything and this gives the filmmaker the opportunity to use that moment as a fadeout and to load a new roll of 16mm film for the next ride, as each roll lasts for only the 9-minute ride. After the blackout the new passengers are seen, in what seems like one long shot.

The co-directors, Stephanie Spray, a doctoral candidate in anthropology, records the sound while stationed in the cable car, while her partner Pacho Velez , a political documentary filmmaker, operates the camera.

It's a film demanding of the viewer to put up with the documentary's repetitive sequences and fill in the blanks with their own observations and thoughts about the visitor's experience, with the mantra being 'the journey is the thing.'

Most riders admire the landscape, commenting on how well the corn grows, the beauty of the hills and the Sal trees. They casually chat and mention that their ears are popping, and its most comical moments has two ladylike older women eat fast melting ice cream and try not to get it to drip on them.

It won some prizes at the Locarno Film Festival, but this is not a film for a wide audience. But for the curious viewer, one looking to be transported to a higher level by a different type of film, it could be a mesmerizing experience.

REVIEWED ON 8/23/2014       GRADE: B+

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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