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Samsara

Posted by martinteller on March 17, 2013

This is one of the first frames of the movie.  Right away, I was hooked.  This wide-eyed, elaborately costumed girl and her dance were instantly captivating.  It’s one of dozens, hundreds of captivating images in this gloriously photographed film.  It’s just as breathtaking and stunning as its predecessor, Baraka… maybe even more so.  Incredibly gorgeous scenes, strange and wonderful and meditative.  Intoxicating.  For the first 40 minutes or so, I felt I was dealing with a top 100-worthy masterpiece.

But then Ron Fricke’s heavy hand gets in the way.  The film is structured in a way that one scene usually segues into the next in some thematic fashion.  But many of these transitions are blunt, obvious juxtapositions.  One of the most egregious is the faces of life-like sex dolls, then cutting to the face of a geisha… as a single tear runs down her face.  How much ham you got in that fist, Ron?  There’s also a sense of been-there-done-that in the film, with its obvious similarities to Baraka and Koyaanisqatsi (which Fricke shot), among others.  The shots inside the rendering plants might have been more effective if I hadn’t already seen Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s Our Daily Bread.  And the time-lapse photography needs to be used more sparingly, it gets old fast (boy, there’s a joke in there somewhere about time-lapse and getting old fast).

Still, even if not all the visions are original, there’s plenty here that I haven’t seen before… and all of it is beautiful, even when the film portrays ugliness.  And there’s a lot of material to mull over and contemplate.  There isn’t one single theme (the title refers to the continuous cycle of life, but that’s only the theme in a vague sense) but a lot of little bits to chew on.  Some are more compelling than others, and some are kinda condescending and like I said, some are way too obvious.  When Fricke isn’t trying to shove some kind of point down your throat (which I should say really doesn’t happen that often) it’s easy enough to just get lost in a train of thought inspired by the visuals.  And the music, once again a lovely, majestic score by Michael Stearns, this time with assistance from Lisa Gerrard (of Dead Can Dance) and Marcello De Francisci.

As an aesthetic experience, it’s tough to beat.  There are so many striking, memorable, fascinating visions to behold, celebrating the glory of nature, man’s architectual and artistic achievements, and humanity in all its variations.  The finger-wagging bits are a bit much, but I’m generally pretty taken with the film.  Maybe it’s not top 100-worthy, but it’s worth a Blu-Ray purchase.  Rating: Very Good (85)

IMDb
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One Response to “Samsara”

  1. JamDenTel said

    This one was a bit frustrating for me. I agree that there were many evocative and beautiful moments (the performance art segment was really cool, and more of that sort of thing would have been nice), but I found the lack of a theme to be annoying, and in the end I felt like it was mostly a montage of pretty images without much holding them together (unlike KOYAANISQATSI, which would be in my own Top 100). As I recall, I also felt there was a little too much Buddhist mysticism.

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