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Samsara

Samsara

By Jonahh Oestreich • July 22nd, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 4/5
SAMSARA
Arrow Films

Release dates (Blu-ray & DVD):
January 8th, 2013 (US)
January 14th, 2013 (UK)
Running time: 102 minutes

Director: Ron Fricke
Producer: Mark Magidson

Concept & Treatment:
Ron Fricke, Mark Magidson

Composers:
Michael Stearns,Lisa Gerrard,
Marcello de Francisci

Samsara (Poster)

I imagine in a few billion years, when our solar system will have obliterated and fallen into oblivion, someone somewhere might cherish Fricke’s films Chronos (1985), Baraka (1992) and now Samsara as a trilogy about life on Earth and, perhaps much earlier, our own descendants might be able to comprehend what they have lost — and ultimately why.

In a beautifully shocking way, Samsara confronts nature and man, not ignorant of the fact that man himself is a part of nature, even if the dominant cultures on Earth have done their part to make people see nature as their enemy or something to be feared. Different than Baraka, Samsara is very much a film about the here and now, interlacing antiquity with the current state of humanity. There is a sense of lost innocence — sheer awe interrupted by disturbing visions, again and again.

Perceived as “a nonverbal, guided meditation”, the film explores “Samsara”, a term describing the continuous flow of birth, life, death and rebirth in Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and other cultures, though it explicitly shows how the natural and organic life cycle is becoming more and more disrupted.

Yet Samsara is anything but a pessimistic inventory of the human drama. Magnificence and beauty are very much alive here, and the sense of wonder still dominates the experience. It’s a grand and trance-like journey crossing millennia and continents. Shot in 25 countries over 5 years, the film is visually as stunning as its Samsarapredecessors, and with a breathtaking soundtrack acting as an emotional narrator.

Although Fricke uses montage techniques reminiscent of Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein (1898-1948) which convey meaning through visual juxtaposition, rhythm and the emotional content of images, Samsara lacks a particular message. Whether or not by design, it invokes associations that sometimes seem almost propagandistic whereas others are virtually inscrutable.

Samsara is not meant to be a “traditional documentary” but with its often intense and thought-provoking takes on modern civilization — from a food-processing plant to a mall food court — the film documents rather traditionally, save for words. The industrialized brutality of chicken slaughter, the obsession with guns or the mundane, Samsaratime-lapsed city traffic, among others, mount to a haunting summary on the plight of civilization rather than encourage “our own inner interpretations”, as the filmmakers intended.

At times I even felt more confined than “guided” as the dramatic co-existence of disaster and wonder is commonplace, and being conscious of it alone doesn’t do anything to inspire a sense of spiritual revelation. The more so as much of Fricke’s visual poetry rests on a style that, as gorgeous as it may be, has become a standard in nature and landscape photography. Thankfully, the film is shot on 70mm film allowing for a unique cinematography even if the viewpoints and angles, for instance, are less surprising.

Samsara makes it pretty much clear though where in the “cycle of life” we are — as a civilization — and this is where I find the film utterly compelling. Over and over, we Samsaraare made to observe how humans are trapped, either literally in prisons, or spiritually — masses of people doing the same thing, rid of individuality and, so it seems, lacking personal emotions. Even the faces and personalities that are singled out appear in a more or less traditional or expectable context, and don’t counterbalance the overarching sense of staggering uniformity.

We seem to live in a world out of balance and need to cherish every moment of beauty, and protect life wherever possible. In cosmic terms, Earth is a young planet and mankind a very young species. Samsara makes us aware of the frailty of both in powerful and spellbinding ways, and as such it is a sublime experience — even if it doesn’t really dare to take a stand.

Samsara

Jonahh Oestreich

Jonahh Oestreich

One of the Editors in Chief and our webmaster, Jonahh is a photographer and journalist who has been working in the media industry for over 15 years, mainly in television, design and art. As a boy, he made his first short film with an 8mm camera and the help of his father. His obsession with (moving) images and stories hasn’t faded since.

His passion for intricate stories and the ‘seven basic plots’ (ask him!) often times makes his friends and family put him in the doghouse for "predicting" too many twists and endings.

You can follow Jonahh on Twitter @Resonance_Zero.

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