Forest of Bliss (1986, Robert Gardner)

Gardner: “Forest of Bliss is intended as an unsparing but ultimately redeeming account of the inevitable griefs and frequent happinesses that punctuate daily life in Benares, one of the world’s most holy cities. The film unfolds from one sunrise to the next without commentary, subtitles or dialogue. It is an attempt to give anyone who sees it a wholly authentic though greatly magnified view of the matters of life and death that are portrayed.”

Gorgeous doc from American anthropologist/filmmaker Gardner assembles this “day in the life” through many days of shooting (either that or he’s the most efficient filmmaker in history), with beautiful artistic shots and editing. There’s a clear plot/progression, as he shows fragments, actions, people, with no indication of who they are or what they mean, then it all gets woven together. The “ladders” being built are stretchers for the dead. The shipful of timber is for funeral pyres. The stone courtyard being washed down is where bodies are prepared. The man bathing in the river is a priest who performs funeral ceremonies. Some shocking images (bodies get dumped right into the river!) but for the most part it’s an awe-inspiring ecstatic film.

Andy opened with Den of Tigers (2002, Jonathan Schwartz), a decent Gardner-influenced short doc from West Bengal featuring people speaking to us in English (so it wasn’t too Gardner-influenced).