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Journeying into the spiritual world of yogis

October 21, 2005|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

Paula Fouce's beautiful, illuminating documentary "Naked in Ashes" takes the viewer into the profoundly spiritual world of India's yogis, who see their taking on the sins of humanity as a source of healing and redemption for others.

In an increasingly materialistic, polluted and chaotic world, the yogis offer a dramatically alternative way of life. They have been drawn to submit to an ascetic discipline involving meditation, controlled breathing and attaining certain postures to achieve liberation from self in order to form a union with the supremely, universal spiritual soul.

Fouce follows the paths of several yogis in their peregrinations, rituals, ceremonies and religious festivals where they offer special cures and healing services for all who seek them out.

In doing so, she takes us into the lives of those who have learned to live -- apart from their various pilgrimages, mainly to the sacred Himalayas -- in the midst of the hustle-bustle of modern urban life, yet at the same time transcend it. They stay close to the Ganges, also held sacred, and subsist on donations that allow them to survive mainly on fruit and water, scant clothing and shelter. They regard their campfires as holy, and they cover their bodies, often naked except for loincloths, with ashes from the fires.

The world Fouce takes the viewer into is intoxicatingly rich and varied, at once immediate and contemporary and timeless with its images of ancient temples, elephants and the yogis. The film's central figure is the charismatic and commanding Shiv Raj Giri, a tall, striking, somewhat paunchy but sturdy man with a silverly beard and long reddish-blondish dreadlocks he sometimes coils on top of his head. For all the rapture he speaks of with his way of life, he not only is alarmed at the world's deteriorating environment but also expresses pessimism as to how much yogis can really affect change for the good. He even predicts yogis, despite an estimated 13 million in India, will die out in 50 years. Fouce acquaints the viewer with a number of other yogis, who help provide a rounded view of the experience, with its unique challenges and rewards.

The beautifully crafted "Naked in Ashes" is the third of four documentaries made by Fouce, who for three decades has studied and embraced the religious teachings found in Nepal, India and Tibet. Her family name is familiar to longtime Angelenos; her grandfather Frank Fouce Sr. was a Hollywood film pioneer and a major exhibitor in downtown Los Angeles and elsewhere for decades. He then established the first Spanish language TV station in the U.S., with his son Frank Jr. carrying on and expanding his many enterprises. By being a filmmaker, Paula Fouce is carrying on a family tradition in her own distinctive manner.

*

'Naked in Ashes'

MPAA rating: Unrated

Times guidelines: Brief nudity, adult themes

A Paradise Filmworks International presentation. Writer-executive producer-director Paula Fouce. Producer Tim Kettle. Creative producer Maria Florio. Writers William Haugse, Lisa Leeman. Principal cinematographer Christopher G. Tufty. Narrators Sanjay Madhav, Dave Datta, Kahlil Joseph, Hrishikesh Srinagesh, Sid Veda, P.D. Mani. Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes.

Exclusively at the Nuart, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 281-8223.

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