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Manakamana (4 stars)

A mesmeric documentary following pilgrims as they visit the titular temple

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Manakamana

Perched atop a mountain in the Nepalese countryside, the temple of Manakamana is a destination for thousands of visitors, devotees and tourists alike, who all make the trip via a panoramic cable car. And it's in this intimate setting that the entirety of Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez's film takes place, their camera making several ten-minute journeys with a cross-section of pilgrims.

While the passengers on screen were chosen after a year of shooting, and are aware of the camera's presence (indeed, together with the whirring of the cable car itself, its mechanical clicks form part of the meditative soundtrack), Manakamana plays like an entirely natural snapshot of human life, of experiences far removed from our own yet, at times, utterly familiar. A couple take a chicken to be sacrificed; two women giggle over their melting ice-creams; a trio of rockers take selfies as they ascend; elderly women reflect on the difficult journey in the days before the cable-car existed.

Although the film is named after the temple to which these myriad characters are drawn, it doesn't profess to offer any significant spiritual truths. Instead, it is a window to another world, seen through the experiences of its passengers with no guidance or context given by the filmmakers. And while some riders are content to silently contemplate the breathtaking view, this introspection gives way to spirited – at times raucous – slice-of-life drama, making for a colourful portrait of Nepal as a country driven by ancient tradition, yet also embracing necessary change.

A product of Harvard's Sensory Ethnography Lab, who previously made fishing boat study Leviathan and shepherding documentary Sweetgrass, Manakamana is a similar departure from filmmaking tradition. But, like those films before it, it is a hypnotic and profound cinematic experience.

Selected release from Fri 12 Dec.

Manakamana official trailer

Manakamana

  • 4 stars
  • 2013
  • Nepal/US
  • 118 min
  • U
  • Directed by: Stephanie Spray/Pacho Velez
  • UK release: 12 December 2014

Film shot entirely on a panoramic cable car which transports pilgrims to the top of a mountain in Nepal, where sits the temple of Manakamana. It plays like an unpretentious snapshot of human life, with some riders silently contemplating the breathtaking view, and others giggling over their melting ice creams. Hypnotic and…

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