Samsara | Movie review
The director of Baraka returns with another glib New Age travelogue.
From the Koyaanisqatsi board of cinematic tourism comes your latest globe-spanning vacation package—an armchair visit to the world’s most serene and chaotic locales. Can’t afford to jet from New Orleans to Jerusalem to the Philippines? Ron Fricke, glorified travel agent par excellence, has you covered. Shot (but unlikely to be projected) in 70mm—just like his Baraka (1992), of which this is basically a remake—Fricke’s movie leaps across whole continents in the space of a single cut. One minute we’re marveling at the intricate architecture of an ancient Asian temple; the next we’re clucking our tongues at the horrors of a chicken-processing plant. Volcanoes erupt, babies are baptized, cars are crushed into cubes. There are no talking heads, only silent ones, staring blankly into Fricke’s all-seeing lens.
The title, Sanskrit for “cycle of existence,” hints at the pleasurable visual symmetries of these New Age trance documentaries. Never is the film more awe-inspiring than when peering down, from a God’s-eye vantage point, at the orderly ebb and flow of our grand metropolises. Yet Fricke’s often-hypnotic imagery has been edited into a relentless sermon. The dichotomies are impossibly glib: While monks engage in the profound practices of their solitary lives, office workers toil away like cogs in some infernal machine. Yes, a ticket to Samsara is cheaper than an international flight. Real travel, however, comes without the editorializing.