Sense and sen­sory sen­si­bil­ity over Nepal

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - DON­ALD CLARKE

MANAKA­MANA Di­rected by Lu­cien Cas­taingTay­lor, Ver­ena Par­avel. Club, Light House, Dublin, 118 min The Sen­sory Ethnog­ra­phy Lab at Har­vard Univer­sity doesn’t sound like the most ob­vi­ous source of ground-break­ing cin­ema to rat­tle senses and con­found ex­pec­ta­tions. Nonethe­less, last year’s Le­viathan –a near-word­less study of a trawler and its catch – was among the most brac­ing doc­u­men­taries of the decade.

This lat­est project form Lu­cien Cas­taing-Tay­lor and Ver­ena Par­avel does fea­ture some au­di­ble con­ver­sa­tion, but, be­holden to an aus­tere brief, Manaka­mana makes Le­viathan seem like a whirl of in­ci­dent. It is also quite bril­liant.

The film-mak­ers set a static 16mm cam­era within a cable car trans­port­ing pil­grims to a Hindu tem­ple high in the moun­tains of Nepal. Manaka­mana com­prises 11 com­plete jour­neys ce­mented to­gether to give the il­lu­sion of one con­tin­u­ous loop. Each leg is the same: trav­ellers rise or de­scend through mists that in­evitably sug­gest heav­enly realms. But each has its own unique character.

A lady and her friend rus­tle mys­te­ri­ous ob­jects be­neath the frame, be­fore pro­duc­ing choc ices that they fail to stop from drip­ping on their cloth­ing. Three el­derly women talk about how the area has changed in re­cent decades. A group of ami­able heavy metal fans bring their kit­ten for a ride. “We should sacrifice him at the tem­ple,” one of their num­ber says. He seems to be jok­ing, but a party of un­ac­com­pa­nied goats – re­vealed in the film’s most jar­ring break from faux-con­tin­u­ous­ness – seem un­likely to end their lives peace­fully.

Manaka­mana works as a tone poem, a Warho­lian revel in the mun­dane and an ethno­graphic study of an iso­lated cor­ner. But it is also very use­ful as a demon­stra­tion of how cin­e­matic pre­sen­ta­tion al­ters our in­ter­pre­ta­tion of or­di­nary things.

Why does this Euro­pean lady look so pe­cu­liar? Is she in­tim­i­dated by the per­son play­ing with a cam­era? If there is no ten­sion be­tween them, then why am I be­ing shown this im­age?

Stark and un­for­giv­ing, Manaka­mana is a jour­ney worth tak­ing.

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