Forest of bliss

Robert Gardner
USA | OmeU

I thought that the audi­ence would not simply wait for the mys­ter­ies to be dis­pelled but would come up with their own solu­tions, supply their own answers, and so, in that way, they would be doing their own anthro­pol­o­gy … I would be con­tent if they merely reg­is­tered the facts: fires, scales, boys, kites, ther­mals. I’m con­fi­dent that they would then, at some level of their imag­i­na­tion, work out their mean­ing.”  (Robert Gard­ner)

 Unlike most direc­tors, the Amer­i­can Robert Gard­ner com­bined doc­u­men­tary film­mak­ing with a poetic formal idiom. His mas­ter­piece FOREST OF BLISS about life and death in Benares, the Hindu holy city, rad­i­cal­ly links artis­tic sub­jec­tiv­i­ty with the sen­si­tive obser­va­tion of other cul­tures. With no dia­logue or nar­ra­tive, the film reflects on the “other” in the form of a mytho­log­i­cal world. This new approach earned him much crit­i­cism from anthro­pol­o­gists, espe­cial­ly in the US. The “Gard­ner case” became a hot topic in debates about forms of ethno­graph­ic film­mak­ing and the sci­en­tif­ic stan­dards involved.