Movie Review: “Samsara” – Pure Cinema

Written by Emily McWilliams November 04, 2012

Ron Fricke brings us a follow-up to his 1992 film “Baraka” in the form of the hypnotic and jaw-dropping documentary, “Samsara”.  Like “Baraka”, “Samsara” is a non-narrative documentary that was filmed over five years in twenty-five countries.  Recorded on 70mm film, the images seem almost too large for the screen and add to the film’s ability to completely immerse you in the world – our world – that the filmmakers want to expose you to.

Life. Death. Rebirth.

It is hard to say definitely what “Samsara” is about.  Watching the film is a very personal and meditative experience that will impact different people in different ways.  The word “samsara” is Sanskrit and refers to the cycles of rebirth.  The themes of life, death, and rebirth are very common among the imagery that is presented and repeated.  There is also a level of social commentary in the film that is very subtle; this is not a statement film but the decision to juxtapose certain sequences allows the viewer to make the connections in their mind as the situations from different countries are presented.

The Earth – As You’ve Never Seen It Before

The cinematography of the film is nothing short of awe-inspiring.  Based on the description of the film so far, many probably have a “Planet Earth” or “National Geographic” conception so far.  “Samsara” is not your typical nature documentary. The use of cinematography in terms of the placement of the camera and the lighting is so vivid and crisp that it reveals a planet both familiar and foreign at the same time.  The use of time-lapse photography, slow motion, and fast motion manipulate sequences to reveal a deeper meaning.

A Film Beyond Words

Even though “Samsara” doesn’t have a specific subject, the filmmakers seems interested in the patterns of movement they were able to create with the footage they captured of large crowds and groups of people.    Some of these sequences were choreographed, but others simply reveal the rhythm that arises unknowingly from daily life.  The editing of the film gives it its own pulse and rhythm.  The syncronization of sound and image builds and carries for long sequences, only to be interrupted by moments of silence as the camera focuses on an individual. The lack of narration or voice-over isn’t noticeable, as the film settles into a language that exposes cinema’s ability to communicate to any audience through images and sounds of the human experience.

Pure Experience

“Samsara” is hardly mainstream, but I think it could be.  Even though there are philosophical underpinnings, the point of the film isn’t to analyze its meaning.  “Samsara” is about experience through cinema, and each viewer will have a different perspective.  For people I know who have seen “Baraka” and “Samsara”, most are simply blown away by the films and found the experience of watching them to be unique. “Samsara” speaks to everyone, and even if experimental documentaries don’t sound appealing, trust me.  This is a film that will draw you in and leave you with feelings of awe and amazement.

My Rating: 8.5/10

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