Darshan - The Embrace

"Good"

Darshan - The Embrace Review


Ten years ago Jan Kounen (born in the Netherlands but working in France) was celebrated in Europe as a trailblazing cult filmmaker. Audiences thrilled to his short films (Gisele Kerozene and Vibroboy), pictures teeming with bright colors and wacky sped-up visuals. In 1997 he stunned Europe with Dobermann, a furious crime film starring Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci that plays out like a Tom and Jerry cartoon on crack. He returned in 2004 with the surprisingly slow and mystical Blueberry, an adaptation of the popular Moebius western comic strip. Many fans were put off. Most were stunned. Sure Blueberry had incredible cinematography and spectacular (and surreal) CGI effects, but it was somber. It was meandering. And most of all it was a message picture. Blueberry was essentially an advertisement for self exploration via psychedelics and shamanism.

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'├ętreinte.



Darshan - The Embrace

Facts and Figures

Run time: 92 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 30th November 2005

Distributed by: IFC First Take

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 50%
Fresh: 10 Rotten: 10

IMDB: 6.5 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer: Tristan Franchon, Manuel De La Roche

Also starring:


Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation Movie Review

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation Movie Review

Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie brings a dark and gritty tone to this larger-than-life franchise. Along with...

Beyond the Reach Movie Review

Beyond the Reach Movie Review

With a spectacular setting and two solid actors on-screen, this thriller builds enough solid suspense...

Cub Movie Review

Cub Movie Review

At a time when horror movies seem to only want to make the audience jump,...

Inside Out Movie Review

Inside Out Movie Review

Those bright sparks at Pixar have done it again, taking a fiercely original approach to...

Advertisement
Southpaw Movie Review

Southpaw Movie Review

Slick direction and meaty performances may be enough for some viewers, but this boxing drama's...

Eden Movie Review

Eden Movie Review

Loose and impressionistic, this beautifully shot film traces the career of a DJ who pioneered...

The Gallows Movie Review

The Gallows Movie Review

Without a single moment of originality, this found-footage horror movie really deserves to be the...

Self/Less Movie Review

Self/Less Movie Review

An intriguing premise keeps the audience gripped for about 20 minutes before the movie runs...

Advertisement