I tackled Mana (2004) without a clue as to what it was or even what the title meant. Well, it turns out the title is a Polynesian word that refers to the power that exists in any object that inspires awe or veneration. I suppose you might say it’s any object (often inanimate) that strikes an emotional chord in those who view it. Filmmakers Peter Friedman and Roger Manley look for this quality in a variety of places—some likely, some not so likely. Since the approach here eschews explanatory narration, what they discover is allowed to speak for itself. The filmmakers’ comments are often there, but only as subtle—and often ironic—touches.
Take for example a singularly unsettling sequence involving a man—seen only in shadows—who specializes in selling mummified body parts, skulls etc., items for which a rather specialized clientele will shell out big bucks for their inherent talisman “power.” (Just what power one derives from Edgar Allan Poe’s hand is open to question.) The fellow goes on and on about his credibility, the existence of other “less scrupulous” dealers and the authenticity of his stock. Then the camera moves in on a Weekly World News clipping about one of his items: the mummified remains of Satan. What more really needs to be said?
There’s even more close-to-home irony in a sequence involving American flags that are “flown over the Capitol.” How the flags are flown is another matter, the dubious significance of which is (probably unconsciously) evidenced in the remarks of North Carolina Congressman Howard Coble. The film also raises questions about the intrinsic value of an object and its relationship to the “brand name”—just think of Rembrandt’s “The Man With the Golden Helmet,” which turned out not to be a Rembrandt after all. It’s all done with good humor, a delightful sense of the absurd and some stunningly beautiful images. Most definitely worth a look.