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Samsara (2011)

February 2, 2013

Samsara-posterFilm is an exceptionally special medium that can tell a story through mashed up moving pictures. Ron Fricke’s Samsara is a breathing testament of a quote from French filmmaker and part-time lunatic, Jean-Luc Godard: “it is not a just image, it is just an image.” Samsara shows why cinema is such a poignant tool that can explore places miles apart, presenting viewers with images they would otherwise never witness. From the directors of Baraka, Samsara moves through various countries exploring different areas and cultures in lustrous ways in order to tell the story of birth, death, and the human cycle of life, or whatever interpretation you get from it.

Samsara is astoundingly beautiful. It’s the type of film that needs to be seen on Blu-ray, in the highest definition, on the clearest, largest screen possible. As a non-narrative film, the images are the beating heart of Samsara, and what captivating images they are. Samsara is responsible for taking viewers on a mind-altering trip through time, space, and culture. It introduced me to practices I never knew existed, like the 1,000 Hand Dance of Beijing, traditional Balinese dancing, Philippine prisoners in unbelievable unison, and watching the meticulous, tedious process of creating a sand mandala by Tibetan Monks. Sure, these aforementioned examples can be found on Youtube, but Samsara is filled with images that aren’t as easy to access. They range from the religious and spiritual to the contemporary and urban, reminding viewers of not only the astounding beauty of life but also its ugly, harsh truths.

That being said, naturally Samsara may not be for everyone, even if non-narrative cinema is your cup of tea; it’s still a commitment to digest. Although the images are aesthetically pleasing, it sometimes feels like watching someone’s hour and a half slideshow. “I mean don’t get me wrong, these are great images and I really dig the music you’re playing over it, but dude I got that thing in a bit so we may need to wrap this up.” Ultimately, with Samsara you’re at the behest of the filmmaker’s eye and what he chooses to show you and how. No doubt this is how all films work, but in a movie with no story, timeline, or narrative you become more aware of it. The “story” thus derives from what viewers project onto it, something that can be rewarding or frustrating if you disagree with how the images are edited together and what meaning you draw from them, if any.

SamsaraI thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated Sasmara, but I still couldn’t help but doze off a few times throughout it– well, in the film’s defense I had more than two beers and was lying snuggled up on a couch. But I digress; although it’s visually stunning, parts of it drag to the point that you stop focusing on the film and fall into your own thoughts until the next exciting or mystifying image pops up. Regardless, Samsara is eye candy at its best. It’s one of those movies to just have on when you’re entertaining friends or when you just want to drop out and watch something stimulating. Fricke took great technological strides, combining negative film with a digital output and filmed in 70mm just to capture life in the most visually pleasing way he could and his efforts certainly shouldn’t go unrecognized.

SEE IT. You won’t regret the images you see.

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