Manakamana, directed by Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez, is a movie filled with dizzying paradoxes. The straightforward setup involves a series of eleven uninterrupted shots filmed from the interior of a cable car traversing a Nepalese mountainscape. It’s a premise that’s simple but not simplistic. It is pleasurably gentle and quiet in tone and yet visually resplendent; a diverse procession of humble real life characters populate its foreground while a verdant, rolling mountains cape rolls majestically behind them. There’s a pervasive feeling of confinement, both for the passengers inside the tiny cable car and for the viewer observing them within the rigid container of space and time that comprises this film.
When I first watched Manakamana at the True/False Film Festival last February, I felt like I was being taken on a two-hour audiovisual amusement park ride: the cable car carries one set of passengers after another at clockwork intervals, but the film’s rigidly confining parameters paradoxically activate a heightened sense of awareness: I became increasingly attuned to small shifts in the passengers’ facial expressions and body movements, in the landscape behind them, in all the things that normally go rolling by unnoticed in all the moments of our lives. Most amusement park rides overwhelm you in sensory overload; this one brings you back to your senses.
As the film’s visual and temporal patterns gradually revealed themselves to me, I started to actively seek points of comparison between each ride. I wondered if each ride actually covered the same geographical terrain; I noticed some seem to show the car moving backwards while others moved forwards. I noticed how passengers occupied the car in different ways, some moving more than others. I wondered what it might be like to superimpose one take over another to make a direct visual comparison between them. And so we have this video that does that, both through superimposition and alternating frame (a.k.a. “flicker”) techniques.
Watch Manakamana Mergings:
What immediately stood out was that in fact these eleven shots are not taken from the same location or position. I was able to group together four sets of shots that seemed to be filmed in identical positions. This video takes those identically positioned shots and overlays them so as to make a direct comparison between their passengers. (I still wonder what it might be like to overlay mismatching locations, but this will do for now.) As to what this experiment reveals, see for yourself.
Kevin B. Lee is a filmmaker, critic, video essayist and founding editor of Keyframe. He tweets at @alsolikelife