If you consider watching Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez’s documentary Manakarama, you should be warned that this meditative, naturalistic piece is as minimalist as it can be:  The filmmakers just placed their camera in a cable car heading to the Manakamana temple in Nepal and observed silently the occupants whether they go up or down the hill. The film is, as a result, composed of a series of vignettes – a dozen trips lasting around 10mn each – letting us embark with a wide variety of occupants, including some older men & women, teenagers and even a few goats.

This documentary is certainly not a work for everybody, especially as there are no dialogues for the first 25mn. The camera stays still, focused on the passenger, avoiding any diversion that might bring some kind of entertainment. For the most part, these pilgrims remain quiet, immobile figures who seem absorbed by this spiritual journey, the cable car trips obviously symbolizing their inner peace and reflective state.

Most passengers are dressed in colorful Nepali clothing, some carrying flowers, others bringing musical instruments. Some travel alone, others are in group. Words are spare. While what they all have in common is to be respectful of this spiritual environment, they however react differently in front of the camera – except for those 4 goats. Those traveling alone seem to ignore the camera, embracing serenity and we mostly get to watch their facial expressions. The three young men who are dressed in black like hard rockers – we know that at least one of them is in a band – are unsurprisingly the most natural and relaxed here. The most entertaining moment is undoubtedly when two old men play their instrument and I must admit I was also amused by the 2 old women eating ice cream bars – it almost looked like an anachronism. Less surprising is probably the fact that the least comfortable and most self-conscious passenger is an American girl, which clearly emphasizes our obsessive relationship with the screen and the way we want to represent ourselves.

A question, which I’m sure comes to your mind at this point, is whether this experiment could be seen as boring and the answer is yes, at least for most audience. I’m pretty sure lots of spectators won’t survive the first 30mn where we just accompany silently one passenger at the time – I’m pretty curious how it will fare at the AFI Festival, knowing that tickets are free,  lots of people picking movies randomly. The ones who will make the effort to go through the cinematic journey will end embracing its beauty and peaceful atmosphere – to give you an idea, it’s like watching a Terrence Mallick film: you need to experience it, as slow as it might be, to let it reveal itself and fully appreciate it.

Director: Stephanie Spray, Pacho Velez – Running Time: 1:58 – Year: 2013 – Country: USA, Nepal

Watch the film’s trailer below:

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Fred Thom

Fred Thom

Editor-in-Chief/Founder/Film Critic at Plume Noire
The founder and editor-in-chief of Plume Noire, Fred Thom covers film festivals and writes movie reviews. He was born in Marseilles, France and is now living in Los Angeles, California.