Oct 202011


“The Story of Panshin Beka” is a short film by Jan Kounen, made as part of the “8” project which challenged 8 directors from around the world to embody or express the 8 Millennium Development Goals adopted by 191 governments at the Millennium Summit in September 2000.

Kounen’s short highlights goal #5, to “Improve maternal health”:For a woman, the lifetime risk of loosing a newborn baby is now 1 in 5 in Africa, compared to 1 in 125 in more developed countries.(World Health Report 2005). The target is to reduce by three-quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality rate.”

“The Story of Panshin Beka” is the story of a young pregnant woman on the banks of Ucauali River in Peru in the Amazon Basin. When her pregnancy becomes threatened, her husband and her grandmother take her on a harrowing journey to try to get her help.

Narrated by Panshin Beka’s friend and her grandmother and layered with song, Kounen’s short film finds its impact in its simple presentation. Short films are usually singular in perspective, but this short is almost communal and has a documentary aspect to it. That documentary style at several turns the camera directly on the characters as though they are posing for a portrait.

These moments seem almost colonialist I’d suggest, like the film is flirting with a National Geographic aesthetic. I read this as alluding to but resisting this colonization. By posing for us, they refuse to let the camera be all seeing, all knowing, they draw attention to the camera’s intrusion. Yet none of this self-consciousness keeps me as an audience member from being profoundly affected by the tale.

Jane Campion, whose Passionless Moments were featured one NC Thursday Night at the Movies a few weeks ago, also has an amazing film among the 8:



  3 Responses to “Numéro Cinq at the Movies: Jan Kounen’s “The Story of Panshin Beka,” Introduced by R. W. Gray”

  1. Wow, thanks, Rob! How sad and beautiful! I love how the music works as a kind of narrative–very moving.

  2. I was especially impressed with how Kounen was able to entice such beautiful performances from the actors.

  3. I admired the actor’s engagement with the camera, too. If anything, I feel it heightened the emotional impact of the short, rather than distract from it.

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