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quietearth [Film Festival 11.12.09] movie review documentary

Year: 2009
Directors: Luis Miñarro
Writers: Luis Miñarro & Lama Jinpa Gyamtso
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: projectcyclops
Rating: 7 out of 10

To kick-off our coverage of the 23rd Leeds International Film Festival, we’ve got Luis Miñarro’s hypnotic documentary Blow Horn. Ostensibly it’s a look at the journey that five native Spaniards take over a 3 year stay at the Sherabling Monastery in Bit, India – however, the initial set-up of interviews with the group pre and post-visit, and footage of them acting as part of a team with the monks to complete daily chores, worship and meditation, soon gives way to an epic montage of life in the surrounding area; monks, citizens, visitors, and all. Miñarro seems to dispense with the regular conventions of documentary film-making to instead take us on what could be described as an experiment in sound and vision equitable with Gorfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi .

I liked this film quite a lot. It came as a complete surprise to me as I expected one of those life affirming looks at Spiritualism that would normally make me cringe and reach for my copy of The Necessity of Atheism, but with Blow Horn we’re taken instead on a curious trip through people’s everyday lives in rural India, and offered utterly stunning footage of the area surrounding Sherabling. What stands out the most is the sound design, as cinematographer and sound artist Christophe Farnarier seems to pick-up every single sound; every trickle of water and murmured conversation and the result is purely haunting and almost overwhelming. We watch the drum ceremonies, necklace workshop, washing day and the visit of a famous Guru; who actually fails to impress on a number of levels, chief among them his solipsistic drivel about, “Not changing, but becoming better, release negative aspirations. I pray for you now.” Seriously.

A trip to a shrine gives one guide a chance to explain how certain deities perched on rugs in the wall paintings are from the divine world, and that they have a spiritual entourage to protect them. The camera moves around a group of monks who are fiercely arguing over a hand-clapping ceremony, as to the best method a slapping palms to get the loudest noise, an argument that almost comes to blows and for me dispels the myth that monasteries are places of constant calm and serenity. The argument might have been good natured in reality, but it was slightly satisfying to see that these outwardly peaceful men are able to get into a heated debate, clapping in each other’s faces to prove their point.

Obviously films like this are not for everyone, and a half dozen audience members did walk out during the more intense middle part of the film, which is dialogue-free and slightly hard-going on those expecting fun and frolics with monks and Westerners. However we do complete a full-circle by the end as the group sum-up the lessons learned from living this tranquil lifestyle for 3 years. Ignacio concludes that he really doesn’t know what he’s leaned, but, “I want to be happy, this is clear to me.” While Lama has taken the brutal fact that, “A retreat is a place for change, and there is no change without suffering” away with her. Although these are both things that I feel I learned myself some time during college, I do appreciate the rather bittersweet sentiment. It’s one of the monks in the end, who sums-up what we all really want, which is: “To be free, without limitation.” But then what chance we that?

What the film doesn’t have, and why it doesn’t get a higher rating, is a sense of humour. There are amusing moments, for instance the camera simply follows a lost cow for about 5 minutes as it blocks traffic and gets into trouble. But there isn’t the wit that carried Koyaanisqatsi, those moments where the film zipped from Twinkies and hotdogs being slid along factory conveyer-belts, to images of humans on escalators and subways. Of course, they are two very different films, but when something takes itself too seriously, I can’t take it the same way.

In the introduction Luis Miñarro pops-up with a quick tour of his living room and thanks for watching, with warning that this isn’t an ordinary film. At 75 minutes long he’s wisely chosen to keep Blow Horn a short and, for me anyway, sweet experience.

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