Short Movie Time: Bagmati River (2022) review [OAFF 2022]

Introduction

The creative reflex, the act of creation, is always subjectively motivated. Something inside the subject – conscious or unconscious – invites the subject to creation. In some cases, directors explore a question that lingers unresolved in his mind or he, without truly realizing it, visualizes a fantasy buried deep within. For others, like Yusaku Matsumoto (Noise (2017)), a creative product functions as an answer to a subjective pain, as an attempt to give a certain painful Reality a narrativized place within one’s subject. Bagmati River is his answer to the untimely death of one of his closest friends, mountaineer Nobukazu Kuriki.

Osaka Asian Film Festival

Review

After receiving an anonymous postcard with a picture of Mt. Everest, Natsuki (Junko Abe) decides to travel to Lukla, Nepal. She feels that her brother Kenji, who went missing during his attempt to climb Mount Everest 2 years ago, might have been the writer. Wandering throughout Nepal, in search for her brother, driven by a vain hope he might still be alive and the injury of never truly knowing who her brother, as subject, was.

Bagmati River (2022) by Yusuke Matsumoto

Bagmati River is a narrative that only attains meaning by identifying the tensions or contrasts that mark the imagery and speech. The first tension Matsumoto plays with is between the unmovable grandeur of the mountains and the weakness of the subject. By showing how Natsuki endangers her own life in search for her brother, he enables the spectator to understand that the desire to conquer the Mount Everest is a dangerous and possible deathly fantasy.

The second contrast Matsumoto introduces is between the life-giving nature of rivers and the funeral practice that takes place along the Bagmati river. By introducing these contrasting elements at the same time, the director elegantly evokes the cycle of life. The Bagmati river does not only give life, but also plays an instrumental role in allowing subject inscribing the loss of loved ones into the Other and their subjectivity. For Matsumoto, it is this scene that functions as ‘therapeutic’ moment, a narrative moment that invites his own subject to accept the death of one of his closest friends.  

The composition of Bagmati River stands out to its ‘documentary-like’ dynamism and its pleasant visual feel. The visual feel of Matsumoto’s narrative is function of the use of film grain. This film grain does not only give the visual a pleasant texture, but also heightens the documentary-feel of the narrative.

Bagmati River (2022) by Yusuke Matsumoto

Matsumoto, furthermore, pleases the spectator with his fine sense of composition. He does not simply deliver beautiful natural scenery, but also confronts him/her with the irresolvable tension between this majestic nature (i.e. mountains and valleys) and humanity who tries but generally fails to master this enticing but dangerous beauty.   

Bagmati river also has a pleasant inviting visual flow. This flow is not only function of Matsumoto’s thoughtful cutting – a cutting that grants the spectator an alluring taste of Nepalese culture, but also by the satisfying synergy he created between his visuals and the rhythm of the musical pieces.

Bagmati River is a beautiful poetic short that elegantly plays with the contrast between life and death. The emotional and poetic power of Matsumoto’s narrative lies not simply in the mesmerizing shots of Mount Everest and the surrounding mountains, but in evoking the danger  that clings to this majestic beauty and highlighting the funeral left-overs that are mingled with water that gives life.  

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