Review: Samsara

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Samsara still photo

Director Ron Fricke (Baraka, Chronos) and producer Mark Magidson reunite to bring audiences another visually stunning and dynamic portrait of life on earth with Samsara. The first movie in over a decade shot entirely on 70mm film, the theme of Samsara is based on its translation from the Sanskrit language. Literally meaning "to flow on" through the cycles of life and thus the "ever-turning wheel of life," the filmmakers explore the interconnections between cultures and societies around the globe.

Samsara was filmed over a period of five years in 25 countries, documenting sacred rituals, disaster zones, urban industrial sites, as well as natural and historical wonders. The audience is treated to over an hour and a half journey across the continents, visiting a range of sights from the Wailing Wall in Old City, Jerusalem to the lingering and decaying aftermath of post-Katrina floods in New Orleans' Ninth Ward; from the natural wonders of Yosemite National Park to the flow of the tides at Mont St. Michel, France, and then to Petra, Jordan.

Like its predecessors Baraka and Chronos, Samsara is a non-traditional documentary relying on visual images and music to connect viewers to the tapestry of ancient and modern world woven by the filmmakers. Composer Michael Stearns returns as well and provides a well-matched score to the film.

The images portrayed through the stunning cinematography and sharp editing in Samsara range from thought-provoking and inspirational to disturbing. Just as I could no longer take the images of young children sorting through fly-covered trash heaps in the shadows of towering skyscrapers, the images shift to a natural wonder or lavish dance. A brief view of a tattooed father rocking his infant daughter touches the heart, while a montage of christenings amuse viewers with the christened children's reactions. Time-lapse photography scenes of natural and historical settings paint a soothing kaleidoscope effect.

Contradictions abound in Samsara, including a synchronized dance in the exercise yard by over a thousand Filipino prisoners, burkha-covered women standing in front of a billboard featuring male underwear models, and caskets shaped and painted like a revolver and an military tank.

The audience is left to interpret the film's images and take away their own message, but for many it may be an awareness of the impact of excesses of the modern world on the natural one. If the wheel of existence is to keep turning for mankind and the world, then perhaps the images and representations portrayed in Samsara are worthy of consideration.