I interviewed Kounen for a small press mag in 1999 and heard nothing that would suggest he would be switching gears. He spoke about his love of animation and his passion for wild visual flare. So what changed? It was during location scouting in Mexico for Blueberry that he discovered shamanism. This intense fascination -- life-altering on a spiritual level -- resulted in the documentary Other Worlds (also 2004) and subsequently infused all of his later work. Discovering "new realities" changed Kounen; he now devotes himself to further exploration of the science of the spirit.
The results of Kounen's explorations can be seen in his latest documentary, Darshan - The Embrace. The film follows the "Divine Indian Mother" Amma (born Mata Amritanandamayi Devi), a 50-year-old woman who is considered a saint in India and seen as a luminary religious figure the world over. Amma is a short, round woman with a genial smile and, obviously, a motherly embrace. In Darshan, Kounen documents firsthand the spectacular spiritual power Amma exudes when in the company of her devotees and the significant influence of her embrace. In fact, she's claimed to have hugged over 25 million people.
The film has no narrative structure; it merely documents Amma's travels through Northern India in celebration of her 50th birthday and her boundless love for the thousands upon thousands of followers that throng her. Most of the film's running time finds Amma seated on an ashram hugging her petitioners and speaking generally about love and the power of a smile. The message, like the film, is simple.
Despite the fact that Darshan has no narrative thread, Kounen doesn't hide his own personal agenda: Amma's powerful hugs are simply another side of the same spiritual coin that Kounen has been chasing after in the far corners of the Earth. In fact, Darshan can feel a bit sycophantic in it's fascination with what Amma embodies, the power she has, rather than the person she is. Kounen doesn't probe into her character, her childhood. Amma's humanitarian work is a tremendous part of her spiritual life but Kounen doesn't linger on the orphanages and homeless -- he is almost too caught up in the ineffable that he sees whirling around this mahatma.
Despite its shortcomings, Darshan remains a beautifully filmed portrait of a woman who embodies a human love that is nothing short of miraculous.
Aka Darshan - L'étreinte.
Run time: 92 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 30th November 2005
Distributed by: IFC First Take
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 50%
Fresh: 10 Rotten: 10
IMDB: 6.5 / 10
Director: Jan Kounen
Producer: Tristan Franchon, Manuel De La Roche
Screenwriter: Manuel De La Roche, Jan Kounen
Also starring: Jan Kounen
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