Twenty years from his ground breaking 70mm non verbal film Baraka, master cinematographer Ron Fricke returns to big screen with another magnificent collection of moving images. If you ever wondered what the photos of a National Georgraphic magazine would be like on the big screen, then this is about as close as you can get. With only a seductively scored soundtrack by long time collaborators Lisa Gerrard and Michael Stearns to guide us, the overall work is evocative, dazzling and sensibly accessible to most audiences, it’s rated pg 13, allowing younger audiences as well to marvel at the technical brillance of this film.
Samsara takes it’s title from a Sanskrit word, which means something like the “ever turning wheel of life”. A concept that is ridiculously at odds with our current philosophy of “I want it now” and “I’ve seen all this before, give me the new”. Even at 100min, there may be some who can’t wait for the big wheel to turn faster. More so if you suspect, by the title and the accompanying images, that Samsara is something of a sermonising film, designed to tap into western guilt with regard to ecology or religious tolerance, I can see that point of view. Beauty is not enough. Images are more than ever the definition of our understanding of the world. According to philosopher Slavoj Zizek, “images are the true reality for us today”. So what do we understand of the world when we see a Buddhist monk, the destruction caused by a hurricane or coffin shaped like a gun? In and of themselves, we can marvel, but in a sequence we struggle with the idea objectivity.
Leaving prejudices at the door is near impossibe for this film. I felt the resistance totally futile, but the rewards, were, as on can imagine, aestheticallly beyond anything the cinema has thrown up, possibly since Baraka. More so if one considers that there are very few films that may ever be made in this format. 70mm is dying, part of the cycle of capitalism than of Buddhism one suspects.
At best Samsara is a wonderful visual meditation on who we are today. With a degree of open mindedness that is as much as possible there is something akin to near spiritual experience, at least for us in the secular west.
In short, it’s phenomenal. A life affirming cinematic experience. A spiritual awakening in 70mm.
Samsara is in cinemas 31st August 2012.
Director: Ron Fricke
Runtime: 102 min