This superb Nepal-set documentary hinges on a simple premise: a 16mm camera placed in a cable car travelling up to the Hindu Manakamana Temple almost a mile above sea level. The trip takes about ten minutes and each shot follows a different set of passengers.
For a nearly two-hour movie, this repetitive structure may sound tedious. But co-directors Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez (in the cable car with their subjects) keep things compelling with a variety of people: an old man and his grandson, a mother and daughter eating melting ice cream, even a herd of goats.
‘Manakamana’ is often funny (two girls who initially seem like antagonistic strangers hilariously turn out to be the best of friends), but it also possesses a serious and sublime spirituality. The filmmakers give each of their subject’s treks the feel of a divine pilgrimage, with no true beginning or end. Whenever the passing landscape vanishes into ethereal cloud cover, it’s as if we’re moving between states of being.
In this context, the most mundane conversation might suddenly take on a metaphysical grandeur, while every moment of silence feels fleetingly precious. You could hardly ask for a more beautiful vision of souls in transit.