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Experimental Documentary 'Manakamana' Is All About The Journey

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This weekend in L.A. saw the release of two critically-acclaimed films about the confinement of individuals within a unidirectional mode of transport. Though one is palpably more exciting than the other, the lesser title is not without its own unique merits.

Manakamana, the latest offering from Harvard's Sensory Ethnography Lab, is a document of 11 rides up or down the cable car that takes pilgrims and visitors to and from the Manakamana temple where their wishes are fulfilled at the price of an animal sacrifice (chickens or goats seem to be the most popular fee). The film seems to fill an odd gap between the previous two major offers from the SEL, Sweetgrass and Leviathan, by taking the direct observational style of Sweetgrass to its logical extreme and refining the chaotic movements of Leviathan. Manakamana's construction is simple: a stationary 16mm camera is placed in the car as it makes its nearly 10-minute ride up or down the ridge and we are left observing the occupants of each ride.

At a runtime of nearly two hours, the premise can wear quite thin at times, but Manakamana's small pleasures are pleasant throughout and the film keeps you engaged my making the viewer search for them. Charming gestures arise out of each ride, from the three Nepalese metalheads taking selfies with a kitten to the old ladies struggling to eat melting ice cream. The slowly scrolling scenic greens of the Himalayan foothills in Nepal pass by just outside, as if they were rear projected like the driving scenes of a classic Hollywood movie. Manakamana proves that even the littlest of moments can be cinematic.

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Manakamana is now playing at Laemmle's Music Hall (Beverly Hills).