Mana – Beyond Belief

Peter FriedmanRoger Manley.

France, 2004.

Mana is the Polynesian word for the power residing in things or, in other words, the power and values that people believe things have. The filmmakers travel five continents to film worshipping ceremonies of holy objects, places and personalities. From cherry blossom celebrations in Japan, a gathering of Elvis fans in Memphis and voodoo ceremonies in West Africa, to stock exchange frenzy in the USA. The stock exchange scene is a fine example of how something’s value depends on the value people believe or assess it to have.

Filming belief is not an easy task, but filming the expression of belief provides spectacular scenes and incredible images. The idea of the filmmakers was not to use voice-over narrators or commentary, but to make the images speak for themselves. They do, in most cases, and the pure pleasure of watching replaces the need for intellectual commentary. The filmmakers have no intention to explain or draw conclusions, they depend solely on the viewer’s desire to watch and connect to what they see. This is a good exercise for watching with an open mind. There are times, though, where a bit of information about where in the world we are exactly would have added to the ‘intellectual’ reading of the film, or maybe that’s just a (my) conventional need for explanation.

The transition from one place to another is made abruptly without any logical link to the next simply opening up a completely different chapter every time. The theme: power objects and belief is so broad a topic that it hardly works as a demarcation but more as a means to show all kinds of things. This results in a film that goes in all directions and leaves it up to the viewer to make the connections.

The filmmakers believe in the mana of the high definition images, and the film is indeed a visual treat and a feel-good experience. A more acute focus or angle tying the different pieces together and sustaining the theme in a more obvious way might have intensified the experience, but the film appeals to the kind of viewing mode where one leans back and simply enjoys.

Modern Times Review