Samsara (2011)

Released nearly twenty years after its big brother Baraka, Samsara, meaning "continuous flow," guides us through a new spiritual journey as we travel around the world and rediscover humanity and our own planet. Sometimes light, sometimes heavy, Samsara covers a surprising number of subjects, and offers many unspoken messages.


If you could dine on images, this movie would be a feast.

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This might be the weirdest introduction to a movie ever. Three tiny girls dance in the craziest of ways, defying human bone structure with their upper body movements. I couldn’t help but be entranced by the combination of captivating music, vivid colors, and the girls’ downright alien appearances.

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For the next thirty minutes, it’s as if you are hypnotized by the sheer beauty of the images flowing before your eyes. You come to the point of asking yourself if this was truly filmed on Earth or if CGI was involved in some way. Even the scenes depicting derelict buildings are pretty. Is there always a message behind what we see? I’m not sure, and I don’t care. This feels like traveling through a dream. If you haven’t noticed yet, director and cinematographer Ron Fricke is the Man when it comes down to handling cameras.

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French artist Olivier de Sagazan’s performance is a major cornerstone of this movie. During three minutes of facial transformations, we see a typical businessman turning into a monster trying to modify his appearance in a flurry of madness. If you felt hypnotized by the earlier images, this scene entirely gets your attention and brings you back to reality like a slap in the face. For some reason, this part of Samsara seems both out of place and appropriate at the same time.

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We build a lot of ephemeral stuff. There are too many of us. We have huge over-consumption issues. Looking at all the computers and cars being manufactured only to be destroyed, all the food that is mass produced and eaten by people who get so fat that they need surgery to remove the excess weight! It all tells us that there’s something wrong with the way we live. Unfortunately, much like its predecessors Koyaanisqatsi and Baraka, the film gives us no solutions, only guilt. Fricke has been brandishing the same old flag since he began filmmaking. He knows how to expose the illness but can’t offer a cure.

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Sex has never been as mundane as it is now. Looking at the silicon love dolls and strip club dancers is terribly sad. Is there even a difference between the two, nowadays? A few minutes later, we see the back of the neck of a geisha which used to be seen, not too long ago, as an highly enticing part of the female body. We’ve gone a long way since then, haven’t we?

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Many movies condemning war will show it under a very harsh light. They will try force-feeding you the violence and its consequences until your mind is branded with images of torture and mutilated bodies. But here, war is portrayed almost in an objective manner. The movie doesn’t really editorialize unless you do it yourself. The film’s direction is passive, making you feel like an innocent bystander. It’s refreshing to finally be able to make your own interpretation while watching a movie.

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After spending quite some time criticizing humanity and society in general, the film comes back to its Baraka roots, blending religion with peace and nature, and adding a tiny pinch of perpetual rebirth. Phew! I was afraid it would end with a note so dark I’d want to get rid of my possessions and become a monk. Not yet, Mr. Fricke, not yet.

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