Words: Brody Rossiter
ARE WE THERE YET?
Often the purpose of documentary filmmaking is to observe, immerse and reveal. It looks to situate the viewer in the environment of the subject and make you understand their concerns and conflicts. Manakamana is documentary which consistently journeys towards becoming both a spiritual and filmic experience for the viewer, perpetually situating its gaze within the tight confines of a cable car steadily ascending above the Nepalese jungle and toward an ancient mountaintop temple. In the process of documenting this pilgrimage – in all, eleven different journeys are exhibited – the film looks to reveal many things, yet not all its revelations come from within the individuals upon which the largely static 16mm camera focuses.
Manakamana looks and feels as though it should be an installation piece projected upon the walls of city museum, offering a subtle commentary upon the clash and, in this case, acceptance of modernity alongside its technologies. Ultimately, the film could serve such a purpose very well, and perhaps the ability to slip in and out of its slow pacing and long, sustained sequences would suit many viewers’ tastes much better – if something begins to feel mundane, then its impact is ultimately lessened. And while the balancing act of immersion and unedited over-exposure are handled with an effortless finesse by directors Stephanie and Pacho Velez – time passes far quicker than you would expect – the film could easily become a watch of attrition for those not looking for enlightenment. This is where Manakamana’s greatest strength and weakness lies: it requires as much back from the viewer as it gives – and for many that may be asking too much.
At its core Manakamana is a largely sensory experience. The first words spoken come twenty-five minutes into the picture and conversation proves sporadic. Though thematic readings can be easily drawn from its multiple ascents, it primarily concerns itself with the spiritual and newly passive nature of the journey to the temple – which has been gifted by the modern cable car – as opposed to the three-day journey which was previously required. The lush jungle landscape below is a hypnotizing backdrop, forever bubbling and boiling away like a green broth beneath the car as it slinks across its chunky metal thread. The clouds pierced by mountaintops appear as steam rising from the thriving ecosystem below, and yet, from up here, inside the confines of this sleek white box, the world below seems to not even exist, or perhaps it is a different world? – at least for sixteen minute round trip.