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Copernicus previews SBIFF with a review of SAMSARA, sequel to BARAKA!!

 

Roger Ebert had this to say about BARAKA, which warmed by cold astronomer heart:

“If man sends another Voyager to the distant stars and it can carry
only one film on board, that film might be BARAKA.   It uses no
language, so needs no translation. It speaks in magnificent images,
natural sounds, and music both composed and discovered. It regards our
planet and the life upon it. It stands outside of historical time....
The restored 2008 Blu-ray is the finest video disc I have ever viewed
or ever imagined...  ‘Baraka’ by itself is sufficient reason to
acquire a Blu-ray player.”

Film fans, we are in luck, after 19 years, director Ron Fricke has
produced a sequel, of sorts, to BARAKA, and that film is SAMSARA.  One
of the highlights of this year’s Santa Barbara International Film
Festival, which starts Thursday, is the American premiere of SAMSARA
on Feb. 1.  I was lucky enough to catch it last year at the Toronto
Film Festival, so in preparation for SBIFF, I’ll share my thoughts on
SAMSARA.

If you aren’t familiar with BARAKA, you might know its ancestor,
KOYAANISQATSI (Fricke was the cinematographer), or its sequels
POWAQQATSI or NAQOYQATSI .  They are nonnarrative films that pair
music with short segments of stunning visuals that reveal something
profound about humans, nature, technology, civilization, or how all
intersect in the modern world.  Think the nature scenes from TREE OF
LIFE, the mind-boggling time-lapse shots from PLANET EARTH, or similar
clips involving crowds of people, or city life.  They are devoid of
narrative, and set to music that’s just as beautiful.  Philip Glass
did the music to KOYAANISQATSI, and if you don’t own the soundtrack,
you’ve no doubt heard parts of it (for example, in WATCHMEN, or its
trailer), or heard its influence in the TRON LEGACY score by Daft
Punk.  Michael Stearns, who scored BARAKA, is back for SAMSARA, along
with contributions from Marcello De Francisci and Lisa Gerrard.

Impressionistic in spirit, high definition in execution, SAMSARA is
like the God’s-eye view of life on Earth, from the sublime to the
staggering.  A few examples of scenes:  monks creating a mandala out
of colored grains of sand, the boiling cauldrons of Yosemite, Balinese
dancers, the aftermath of Katrina in New Orleans, animals being
processed in a factory farm, Petra, eerily humanoid robots, bizarre
coffins, gleaners at a garbage dump, and thousands upon thousands of
pilgrims at Mecca.

The title means something like “the ever turning wheel of life.”  So
the theme of birth, life, death, and rebirth repeats.  As in its
predecessors, you experience the individual scenes in SAMSARA
essentially on an emotional level.  But their juxtaposition brings to
mind certain thoughts.  We see a patient about to undergo plastic
surgery nearly alongside meticulously sculpted latex human faces.  We
witness the goings-on in a factory slaughterhouse, and afterward,
overweight diners gorging on their cheap calories.  Tribes, guns,
prisoners, and death, are shown, all on an epic scale.  Nature and
cities give us their best and worst.

This may strike some viewers as “preachy,” but that’s not how I saw
it.  For example, religion is a constantly recurring motif.  I didn’t
take the film as pushing religion, but more as a document of the human
experience.  And our way of life, and even our bodies, have been
transformed by changes in our food production.  Merely broaching some
topics like these, even though they are not explicitly commented on,
is seen as an unwelcome political act by some viewers.  But any film
that confronts the eternal is likely to stir unsettling thoughts.
The overarching theme of changes in our lives due to technology,
whether it is food production, airplanes, cars, or guns, have been a
part of every film in this lineage.  And with good reason -- films
like SAMSARA can help us to reflect on massive shifts in life on our
planet in ways few others can.

As you can imagine, creating a film so grand in scope was no easy
task.  It was shot in more than 20 countries over 4 and a half years.
The filmmakers had to get clearances to shoot in all manner of
sometimes-forbidden locations, and in some cases wait for just the
right season or lunar phase.  It was shot on 70mm, but digitally
scanned to 8k resolution.  In Toronto it was projected at 4k, a first
for the Toronto Film Festival.  If it is at all possible to see this
film on a big screen in a state-of-the art theater, by all means go
out of your way to do so.  Even if you have to travel somewhere to see
it that way, it is a hell of a lot easier than traveling the globe.

SAMSARA is easily one of the highlights of my moviegoing experiences
last year.  It may not have quite the same impact on audiences as some
of its predecessors, but that’s only because we’ve seen some of this
before.  In that sense it is a true sequel -- you get what you liked
from BARAKA, but bigger and better.  As far as I’m concerned, I’d love
to see an epic, trippy planet-orgy like SAMSARA every year.  The world
is a big place, and Ron Fricke and his team have only scratched the
surface.

 


-Andy Howell  aka Copernicus

Copernicus Twitter

Readers Talkback
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  • Jan. 26, 2012, 9:34 a.m. CST

    Take your weed, folks

    by Rtobert

  • Jan. 26, 2012, 9:35 a.m. CST

    Tree of Life had some mind-blowing visuals too

    by Rtobert

    Wasn't he going to make a long IMAX film out of the Creation sequence?

  • Jan. 26, 2012, 9:51 a.m. CST

    We need a remake of Koyaanisqatsi

    by Ricardo

    The world changed TOO much since 1982...

  • films mentioned here. It is an image of whirling dervishes, a sect of Muslims in a trance-like dancing state. I have tried to place this striking image, shot from above mostly, but cannot. I did not see the entire film, just this segment. But I always assumed it was from one of these films. Any help? Also, yes, a re-make of Koyaanisqatsi, in 60fps 3d , would be breathtaking.. I imagine.

  • Jan. 26, 2012, 9:57 a.m. CST

    They did a remake of Koyaanisqatsi...

    by rev_skarekroe

    ...it was called "Tree of Life".

  • Jan. 26, 2012, 9:58 a.m. CST

    I'm off the weed for the moment....

    by Righteous Brother

    but I might treat myself when this released on Blu Ray.

  • Jan. 26, 2012, 10:10 a.m. CST

    righteousbrother

    by TheManWhoCan

    Rock on dude! No one ever really quits! Bakara was amazing!!

  • Jan. 26, 2012, 10:12 a.m. CST

    Release dates, where can I view?

    by Clayton Douglas

    is there any info available? DVD, BLU.....I have every one of these films in my collection, I am on and off the weed....please help!

  • Jan. 26, 2012, 10:22 a.m. CST

    Samsara is a Buddhist warning...

    by zinc_chameleon

    the word raises the supreme red flag for practicing Buddhists, and it sounds like this film understands the concept. Think more along the lines of 'chained to the wheel of life' than a happy dervish dance. Actually the original Conan had it right: Samsara is the wheel of woe. It is lust that keeps the wheel turning; and suffering that encourages one to free oneself from it.

  • Am I the only one that found this a tad pretentious?

  • Jan. 26, 2012, 10:40 a.m. CST

    @gotlik

    by Chewbacca_Khan

    That's a scene in Baraka for certain. Of all of these, I only saw Koyaanisqatsi in the theaters but I will absolutely be buying tix for this, just for the chance to see these images on the big screen.

  • Jan. 26, 2012, 10:48 a.m. CST

    whirling dervishers...

    by robertdee

    ...were in Baraka. The same kind of sequence was also used in The Fall by Tarsem. Baraka is one of my top 10 films. Misunderstanding of the word "narrative", though, which Baraka clearly has: Nature, Man in harmony with Nature, Man against Nature, Man fucks up, Man has painful rebirth, Man reconnects with Nature again. I could bang on about the difference between narrative, plot and story but, meh.

  • Jan. 26, 2012, 11:02 a.m. CST

    buddhism

    by robertdee

    Zinc_chameleon, Yeah, Samsara is a buddhist term. Baraka is pretty buddhist in its theme even if its subject matter is universal (other religions are included). I think "chained to the wheel of life" or "wheel of woe"can lead to misunderstanding, though. Samsara means the continuous flow of birth, death and rebirth (in buddhism) - the cause of suffering comes from attachment to things in that flow as if they were not impermanent (which all things are). This is more subtle than "life is woe". Renouncing life will cause just as much suffering - the buddha first tried renunciation as well as hedonism and found both of them dissatisfactory. That's why buddhism is called the middle way. As Joseph Campbell said (paraphrased) "the trick is to find your centre from which to operate from, where you are motivated neither by fear or desire". That pretty much sums up buddhism, in my mind and also true freedom (how can you be free if you are the slave of your fears or desires?)

  • Jan. 26, 2012, 2:43 p.m. CST

    LOVE Ron Fricke!

    by The_Genteel_Gentile

    Remember when Fircke was suppost to do 70mm cinematography for Francis Ford Coppola's "Megalopolis"? Too bad that never happened. Anyway, I'd love to see Ron Fricke lend his epic scope and sensiblities toward a narrative feature someday... maybe team him with Terrence Malick or Carrol Ballard. But then again, to corral Ron Fricke to the confines of such a small canvas may be a waiste of his unique talents.

  • Jan. 26, 2012, 2:54 p.m. CST

    Baraka was stunning. Have high hopes for this.

    by scrote

  • Jan. 26, 2012, 4:10 p.m. CST

    Thak you for the review Copernicus!

    by Proman1984

    Always nice to see something intelligent on AICN.

  • Jan. 26, 2012, 5:13 p.m. CST

    Chronos

    by darkgrafix

    was and still is one of my favorite films. I would go to the museum of science by USC and watch it on the IMAX whenever it played. A beautiful score by Michael Stearns.

  • Jan. 26, 2012, 6:04 p.m. CST

    Baraka one of my favorite films.

    by deelzbub

    My brother-in-law needs to return my Baraka DVD.