Saturday, 12 January 2013

Samsara Review

Director: Ron Fricke

Synopsis: Samsara casts a beautiful light on 25 countries and the stories and landscapes of each.

Nearing the first hour of Samsara director Ron Fricke shows us a series of assembly-lines. Disturbing in some senses (the sheer monotony of the job or the slaughter of chickens, cows and pigs), they are also hypnotic sequences. They are followed with an ironic look at supermarket shopping and fast-food consumerism and subsequently by presentations on the body, surgery, air-dolls and then strippers. It highlights the structure of the documentary in its awareness of universal parallels. Furthermore, from shining a light on the minutiae of life, it implores you to look at the art of it.

In its entirety, Samsara is a glorified screensaver (by no means a negative) – a series of moving pictures that are there purely to be looked at. If cinema is based on the notion of watching, this film embodies that concept better than most. For one hour and forty minutes Fricke presents the most striking features about the world around us. Some shots come and go without you taking much notice but the majority of what has been shot on the 75mm camera warrants every bit of your attention. 

There are too many to list although special mention must go to the Chinese formations and synchronised prayer rituals photographed with as much meticulous detail as the group movements themselves. Much like the assembly lines, there is an allure to the uniformity. Some parts are quite disturbing, like one showing a man transform himself into a creature closely resembling that of the Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth. On the whole, however, it is a suitable feature for families – an educational and eye-opening depiction of life.

Some viewers may switch off after only a few minutes, realising there is no narration or narrative and only the image and soundtrack to dictate any emotion/impetus. Nevertheless, ignore for a brief amount of time the conventions of regular cinema and you will be transported into numerous cultures, all with their own eccentricities and beauties. There would also be many reasons for revisiting the documentary after its initial viewing; trying to work out the locations for each segment is not an easy task but certainly an interesting one.

By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on Flickering Myth

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