WATCH FROM HOME: Forest of Bliss

Robert Gardner
produced with Ákos Östör
color, 90 min, 1986

Available on DSL and DVD:

“Forest of Bliss is an unsparing yet redemptive account of the inevitable griefs, religious passions and frequent happinesses that punctuate daily life in Benares, India’s most holy city. The film unfolds from one sunrise to the next without commentary, subtitles or dialogue. It is an attempt to give the viewer a wholly authentic, though greatly magnified and concentrated, sense of participation in the experiences examined by the film.

In late 1984 and early 1985 I was back in Benares making Forest Of Bliss, a film about which I had pondered at length since my first unsettling visit ten years earlier. I have shaped the film so that it occupies the time between two sunrises. It stands as an exclusively visual statement resorting neither to voiced commentary nor subtitles. It is about people being and also dying.

Of the multitude at work, at play and at prayer, three individuals are seen in somewhat greater detail than others. They are: a Healer of extraordinary geniality who attends pained and troubled people both in his modest home above Manikarnika, the main cremation ground, and the Durga temple late at night; the baleful and untouchable king of the cremation grounds, who vigorously exercises his hereditary rights to sell sacred fire and grass to mourners; and an unusually conscientious priest who performs sacred rites at a small shrine he maintains near the Ganges.

Seeing Forest of Bliss completed, I am quite certain that the animals, especially the dogs, have an importance I merely glimpsed as I was shooting. The dogs and, of course, the River.” – Robert Gardner