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Over the Hills and Far Away

Climb aboard the cable cars to ‘Manakamana’

June 3, 2014, 12:00 am

“That sounds mundane…interesting,” says one of the cable car riders with a laugh in Manakamana, after the other rider describes a three-word journal entry. “Interesting-mundane.” Then they both have a chuckle and look at the scenery through the car window.

The idea of something being interesting-mundane captures the feeling one may have when being presented with Manakamana, which consists of about a dozen (I didn’t count) shots of riders, each roughly 10 minutes long, on a cable car to or from the Manakamana temple in Nepal. For those of us unversed in Hinduism, a quick Wikipedia search reveals it’s “the sacred place of the Hindu goddess Bhagwati.”

Manakamana the film is a captivating, trying and ultimately rewarding piece of filmmaking produced at Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab and directed by Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez. It takes a hands-off approach. The camera is stationary, never leaving the car, and the subjects sit in front of it. What little we know of them is provided by their dress, their brief conversations and the looks on their faces.

Fans of movies in which nothing happens (like me) will enjoy it; the rumble of the car induces an almost meditative ideal. The human subjects are fascinating (the animals are, too), their interactions priceless. Manakamana is great.



Directed by Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez

The Screen
118 min.


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