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Friday, April 18, 2014


Courtesy of The Cinema Guild
2014, 118 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez's Manakamana takes its name from a Nepali temple.  The film is the latest produced by Harvard's Sensory Ethnography Lab, which is best-known for producing the acclaimed documentaries Sweetgrass and Leviathan.  The temple of Manakamana is located on a mountain and to get there, one must take a cable car.  Spray and Velez discovered that a roll of Super 16 film lasts as long as a cable car ride to or from Manakamana, so they went out and filmed people's trips up and down the mountain.

Manakamana is extraordinary because of the way that it puts people under a microscope to allow us to appreciate the smallest of actions or the shortest of sentences.  During one trip up the mountain, a woman, Mithu, is sitting in the cable car and holding a miniature Manakamana souvenir.  Her sullen look and shyness (I was told by co-director Stephanie Spray that this woman was really very talkative) means that she says very little throughout the cable car ride.  The one or two times she speaks, she talks about how much she likes her souvenir.  The fact that the only words that this woman says throughout the entire ride are about a simple souvenir is hauntingly beautiful.

Souvenirs are simple objects that remind us of whatever place we visited.  As interesting as they are, most people think of them as simple knick knacks.  However, Mithu saw her Manakamana souvenir as something meaningful - a little piece of happiness that she felt was good enough to talk about and share with the world.

Manakamana is a film about the small moments.  While one or two of the film's eleven sequences are fascinating throughout, most sequences are made emotionally resonant and intriguing because of the small moments like the one described above.  This is not a film for the easily bored, as minutes go by without anything of significance happening.  By showing life unfiltered and in real time, we begin to look for the moments of beauty and realize just how wonderful they are because we are forced to pay attention and to look for those moments to keep us interested.

Overall, Manakamana is a film about the beauty of human life and the small moments that we may neglect to notice in the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives.  While the film is a bit too long, it is an entrancing experience unlike any other.  For the adventurous filmgoers out there, this is a must.


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