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Review: Ashley Bell’s documentary ‘Love & Bananas: An Elephant Story’ connects emotionally

(L-R) - Ashley Bell Lek Chailert surrounded by Lek’s herd at Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai Thai
Filmmaker Ashley Bell, left, and conservationist Lek Chailert in the documentary “Love & Bananas: An Elephant Story.”
(Max Ritter / Abramorama)

Directed by actress Ashley Bell, the documentary “Love & Bananas: An Elephant Story” is the type of film that’s impossible to come away from unchanged. It tells the story of conservationist Lek Chailert as she works to save a blind, aging elephant named Noi Na from the rampant abuse at an elephant trekking park and take her across Thailand to Chailert’s rescue park.

Bell accompanies Chailert, Noi Na and the team as they face deadly obstacles so Noi Na can finally experience freedom and life as an elephant, rather than a chained animal.

Bell’s compassion and devotion to the cause is clear through her expressive face, which shares both her joy and pain, but she also does well behind the camera. “Love and Bananas” is clearly told with a defined, organized structure. There are likely many stories of cruelty and heroism within the world of elephant trekking, but Bell keeps her focus narrow so she’s able to fully explore the personalities involved, particularly those of Noi Na and Chailert.

“Love & Bananas” works on two levels, spreading awareness about the plight of Asian elephants and the damage that tourist activities like elephant treks wreak, as well as documenting Noi Na’s 500-mile journey and dramatic rescue.

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‘Love & Bananas: An Elephant Story’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills

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