Samsara, is a Sanskrit word which means ‘journeying’. In Buddhism, Samsara is defined as a cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Aptly chosen, Samsara encapsulates the entire 99 minute cinematic world tour, where director-editor-cinematographer Ron Fricke takes you on a tour through the true, the magnificent and the shocking, covering locations in 25 countries in stunning 70 mm images.
The film is the long awaited sister to Baraka (1992), where Fricke provides a kaleidoscopic view of the human condition, natural wonders, life and daily activity; bouncing between serenity and chaos, reflecting on humanity’s connection to nature.
Fittingly, Samsara begins by shedding rare insight into the lives of the Tibetan monks. With no dialogue or narration, the film teases the viewer with images of day turning to night, of baptism and of death. From the opening scenes, the theme of rebirth is established, highlighting new beginnings and delving into Buddhist teachings of taking time out to appreciate ones surroundings. Up against the rough edges of the cliff-face or under the fierceness of the waterfalls, Fricke reminds us how truly insignificant we are, confronting the viewer with raw images of nature contrasted against the madness of the industrial epicentre.
Touring through Africa, Fricke challenges the traditional western ideals of beauty with images of tribal body modification. In Asia, unnatural looking mannequins with Barbie-like proportions are interlaced with images of the doll-like faces of Japanese girls, and of Japanese strippers on the podium swaying their hips seductively. Fricke’s close up and back and forth shots challenge the viewer to differentiate between the doll and the made-up face of the girl, revealing that in some cases, she, upon closer inspection, may indeed be a he. The tears of a giesha culminate the sadness of it all, prodding one to consider, ‘what are we doing to our girls?’.
The film is full of juxtapositions. Whether it be nature versus the city, or women in burkas at a shopping centre in Dubai standing in front of an advert featuring male swimsuit models. Materialism and consumerism are starkly contrasted with waste and destruction as Fricke teaches us all where our consumables come from- ‘Factory Asia’, with graphic images of factory farms and abattoir’s, highlighting what the true cost of our consumption is. This film is not for the faint hearted, or those easily disturbed by such images.
Confronting images of trash pickers, slums, Israel’s West Bank separation and Java’s sulphur mines are ever present. However, it is the eyes that get to you. With intensity, Fricke opens the windows to one’s soul, daring you to look away whilst allowing the subjects to share their stories without uttering a single word.
If you enjoyed Baraka, or are simply looking for something different from the usual Hollywood box office hit, Samsara is a worthy choice.
4/5 stars for Samsara