Directed by Shmuel Hoffman and Anton von Heiseler, a day in the life of Aspiya, a 10-year-old girl living with her younger brother, older sister and parents in a one-room-shack in Delhi near Asia’s biggest landfill. Aspiya is the main supporter of her family. Every day, she walks up the landfill in order to collect trash that then will later be sold to companies that reuse the materials for their products.
With a story of such importance and emotional weight, it very easily speaks for itself so the most critical element of a film like this is letting it do that, not attempting to force that message unnecessarily and these filmmakers definitely succeed in that manner. There’s a very slow, thoughtful style to the direction, it feels as though it’s letting Aspiya lead it through the story, rather than trying to tell her tale for itself. It also cleverly doesn’t rely too much on her narration, it injects her voice wonderfully to give her perspective but at times, it allows the visual to do the talking. It’s supported by cinematography that without doubt takes in the colour and sharpness of the landscape but in a way that’s harshly honest. It’s reminiscent of Notturno, but where that film misses the mark on a more personal tone, this film hits the right note, it lets you get to know its subjects even in this very brief time frame and more strongly connect with their reality.
Aspiya’s story is downright heart-breaking, she’s saying things that no child should ever have to say and she does so with such a natural, everyday tone that it hits even harder. It evokes such a strong feeling of helplessness and self-reflection that it may genuinely leave you breathless. There’s one particular moment of her story that’s delivered in such a casual way but is dealt like a sledgehammer, yet she’s so resilient and positive that she takes all the hardship in her stride. She’s an inspirational young girl and a poignant example of how resilient children can be and how they’re still just looking for happiness and love, no matter what life they’re born into.
The Mountain & The Maiden is harrowing, heart-breaking and yet somehow retains a sense of positivity, it explores the harsh reality of Aspiya’s life but also how she remains hopeful about the future despite it all. Its direction and cinematography allow the story to speak for itself and it certainly has a lot to say but the way they really give Aspiya a voice, and don’t take focus away from her, it’s her story and she tells it, is not always a given with a documentary but that personable, more intimate touch is very well done. It’s a chilling watch that packs a punch and has a sincere, important message.