August 20, 2012
Samsara, Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson’s latest creation, is a real feast for the eyes. Samsara, a Sanskrit word, means ‘the ever-turning wheel of life’; Samsara, the film, is a journey through an extraordinary range of life’s possibilities. Not all the images are beautiful, but they are all striking. The film is described as a ‘search for the elusive current of interconnection’. Sometimes the connection is hard to fathom; at other times it is plain to see.
Most of the images are very beautiful, with sweeping camera shots. Fricke is also known for his time-lapse cinematography and some of the shots of, for instance, a shadow passing over a sand dune or down a wall are stunning. There are scenes of natural beauty, but the filmmakers seem more interested in the human face and the human condition. There are beautiful dancers in fabulous costumes, but also views of slums; vast numbers of prisoners dancing in formation as well as intimate moments such as a tattooed man very gently cuddling his baby.
Particularly striking, but hard to watch, is the sequence where we see battery hens, penned cows and tethered sows. The animals are ruthlessly and mechanically transformed into meat and vast factories with vast numbers of workers deal with the carcases. The next scene shows tables of people consuming mass produced food, followed by a doctor carefully drawing a line down a huge stomach, presumably prior to surgery. However, most of the film is less obviously stating a point of view, more presenting than preaching.
The film claims to be filmed in 25 countries across 5 continents: it was interesting to wait for the end credits and see exactly where it was filmed. Some of the places are obvious – the Wailing Wall for instance – but some much less so. It is clear that the filmmakers’ main interest is in Asia, especially the Far East: the imagery from this part of the world is the most striking of all.
It is important to turn off all normal expectations of what to expect from a film: there is no plot and no dialogue; the shots linger much longer on faces than is usual; there is precious little action, but moments in people’s lives are recorded. The music has the same sweeping quality as the wide scenes it accompanies. Often there seems to be no apparent reason for moving from one scene to another. If you can let that not matter, then you can relax into the film and just enjoy it for its visual beauty. It is two people’s vivid view of the world in which we live.