Filmed over five years in twenty-five countries on five continents, and shot on 70mm film, Samsara is a non verbal, guided meditation on the 'ever turning wheel of life' - samsara. The film takes audiences to the varied worlds of sacred grounds, disaster zones, industrial complexes, and natural wonders.
Review by Louise Keller:
Magical, spiritual, meditative and calming, 20 years post Baraka, Samsara is everything we could ask for - a wondrous, informative and inquisitive work of art. It's as though creator Ron Fricke cocoons our senses with his visions of the ever-shifting world in this wheel of life in which the ordinary and the extraordinary are showcased in a dazzling display of imagery and music. There are interesting juxtapositions and statements as nature's miracles, man-made wonders and reflections of life effortlessly glide on a stunning canvass of reflections.
Shot on 70 mm film over five years in 25 countries on five continents, Samsara is cinematic storytelling that utilises rhythms and music to accentuate the revelations and the surprises. While Fricke and co-writer Mark Magidson inject a sense of perpetual movement in the film, there is also a sense of stillness as the camera lingers curiously on interesting faces, places and people in situ.
There are stark contrasts like the colourful, painted doll-like Asian girl dressed in shimmering gold with bright red cherry earrings and the African men and women wearing body paint and a patient expression. The fury of a volcano spits ruby sparkles into the air, while flamboyant clouds swirl in expectation. Virgin sand on a vast desert contrasts the intricate detail of frescos and gold leaf cherubs on a cathedral ceiling.
Time-lapse photography reveals the sunrise on stark red clay mountains as if a theatre spotlight as the curtain rises. We are shown incredible formations of rocks of different colours and textures, while the glittering jewels of a city by night sparkle as the traffic weaves into the distant horizon below a full moon.
A tattooed man cradles a baby girl; native women carry offspring on their backs while balancing containers on their heads. There's a bird's eye view of a plush oriental hotel, naked mannequins in sexual positions, pole dancers in bikinis and an obese man's bulging stomach. Images of chicken, cows and pigs in various stages of the circle of life from captivity to the table are disturbing, as is the production line where the carcasses, flesh and bones are handled.
Lisa Gerrard's distinctive and ethereal voice soars above a sequence in which a pink-lined child's coffin shaped like an aeroplane begins the representation of death. It is followed by caskets, graveyards and flowers, guns, bullets and a striking image of a deformed army hero. The evocative score by Lisa Gerrard, Michael Stearns and Marcello De Francisci is a high point of the film, utilising emotive sounds, rhythms and melodies that come straight from the soul.
With its beautifully edited, richly compiled and conceived subject matter, there is so much that can be said about this statement of cinematic tranquility. There is no need for captions, narration or dialogue: Samsara is complete as it is, a wonderful, emotion-driven visual contemplation.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
There is a telling question posed by an interviewer reported in the background briefing notes to Samsara; "was there a political intent behind any of the footage?" He refers to scenes in food manufacturing plants, landfills and urban wastelands. Producer Mark Magidson says "It's not political themes you are going after. It's not a value judgement ... it's about how it is now."
The question is telling because it is an example of how we bring our own agendas and project them onto the filmmaker's screen. But if we are to get the most out of Samsara, we need to see it with a blank agenda; it is a privileged world tour in the company of a man with patience and vision - and a desire to share this amazing world.
Samsara, Ron Frike's sequel to Baraka (1992) generates similar sensations to that landmark film, flooded with patterns and formations both man made and natural. How did Frike know that the shadows cast on that remote ruin would make such dramatic lines? How did he find those amazing faces behind ancient masks?
But if we sit back and not worry about how he did it, we can enjoy that he did it. Beauty and brutality in nature and in humanity are juxtaposed with visual artistry that is a result of both the images themselves and how they are edited together. As we watch, us film reviewers search earnestly for meaning and agenda, whereas Frike is intent on discovery and observation, using time lapse photography to impel our visual emotions. And close ups; we never tire of the human face - any human face - but Frike shows that a close up of just about anything, in the right context, is fascinating and thought provoking.
The unmistakable vocal emotion of Australia's acclaimed Lisa Gerrard and the work of her fellow composers Marcello De Francisci & Michael Sterns, adds immeasurably to the experience. The world seems a stranger, more complex and more extraordinary place through Frike's film.
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SAMSARA (2011) (PG)
PRODUCER: Mark Magidson
DIRECTOR: Ron Fricke
SCRIPT: Ron Fricke, Mark Magidson - concept & treatment
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ron Fricke
EDITOR: Ron Fricke, Mark Magidson
MUSIC: Lisa Gerrard, Marcello De Francisci, Michael Sterns
RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2012