A Humble Life, 1997

A Humble Life is a languidly paced and serenely patient chronicle of the austere and simple, yet noble life of an elderly woman (later identified in the end credits as Umeno Mathuyoshi from the village of Aska in the Nara prefecture) living a solitary, Zen-like existence in the mountains. Aleksandr Sokurov’s static camera reverently lingers (at times, perhaps too indulgently) over Umeno’s quiet, reserved, and gentle presence as she goes through her daily ritual: neatly arranging her hair (more out of practical necessity than vanity), starting a fire on the stove, hand sewing a funeral kimono for income (and being briefly interrupted in a subtly humorous episode by a group of persistent itinerant monks seeking charity), intermittently warming her hands over a nearby vessel containing her seaming iron, preparing her meal, dining in complete silence (except for a passing, unarticulated thought that results in momentary enigmatic laughter), and incanting a brief after-meal prayer. The film concludes with a series of haiku poems recited by Umeno that reveal a longing for her late husband, an accepted separation from her married daughter, a graceful optimism for a predicted turn in the weather, and the inevitable changing of seasons in the eternal cycle of life.

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