Manakamana is the name of a sacred Hindu temple built high in the mountains of Nepal. While it once took days to reach the destination, in the late 90’s a cable-car system was installed, reducing the journey to a leisurely 10-minute ride. This increased convenience made the temple more accessible than ever, and turned it into a tourist destination. Working with Harvard University’s Sensory Ethnography Lab — the research facility behind “Leviathan,” last year’s visceral experimental documentary giving audiences an immersive view of life on a Massachusetts fishing boat — filmmakers Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez assemble 11 unbroken takes documenting the rides to and from the temple, made by worshipers, tourists, and in one memorable case, a car loaded with bleating goats, to create a mesmerizingly evocative snapshot of humanity.
For 10 minutes at a time, we’re allowed to simply observe the travelers, sometimes chatting with one another, other times simply sitting quietly. In the stillness and the silence, we don’t learn much about these people, and we have ample time to study their individual faces, reading into their expressions and imagining our own stories about where they’re coming from or where they might eventually be headed. It requires some patience to grow accustomed to the film’s unique rhythms, but there are innumerable pleasures to be found. From a rooster that suddenly pops into frame midway through one journey, to the attempt by two women to consume their rapidly melting ice cream before they must disembark, or musicians tuning their instruments, the individual moments have a cumulatively poignant and profound impact.