Forest of Bliss
(Robert Gardner, 1985, 80 mins)
Poetic insight into the human condition, or self-indulgent response to a poorly-understood ethnographic context? Forest of Bliss is perhaps the most controversial film in a long line of controversial films by Gardner, and has generated a passionate debate. On one level the film documents the ‘death industry’ in Varanasi (Benares), one of Hindu India’s most sacred places; on another level it is a largely wordless meditation on death and salvation. While three main characters emerge during the course of the film (a healer, a merchant, and a priest) the film is not so much about them as about the city and the grey space between death and life.