Samsara, another the eye-popping cultural visually essay, shot in high gloss 70mm with Fricke's trademark pristine compositions and dizzying time lapse photography, is even more sumptuous and satisfying than 1992's Baraka. With such a huge canvas it's impossible to be subtle with this picture, so critiquing any of it's heavy-handed theme or statement making is an exercise in futility.
Samsara (2012) dir. Ron Fricke
As remarked in my review on Criterion’s Qatsi trilogy it was the creative presence of Ron Fricke as cinematographer and editor which seemed to elevate Godfrey Reggio’s vision into something more memorable and spectacular than the two other subsequent films without him.
After Koyaanisqatsi Fricke went on his own to make a series of bigger, grander cinematic visual spectacles. Baraka’s 70mm format brought a pristine clarity missing the gritty Koyaanisqatsi, but in Baraka, without Philip Glass’s score it never matched the power of Koyaanisqatsi. In Fricke’s short subject film Chronos, Fricke took the technology of timelapse photography another level by incorporating camera moves, dollies, and pans into his shots creating an even more stimulating view point on our world.
Samsara is the next logical achievement for Fricke, still using some of the same visual tools he’s been honing but sparingly, relying less on the trickery and more on the visual counterpoint, stunning composition and remarkable frames which in almost the four walls of each of it’s shots tells its’ own story-within-a-story.
Beneath the surface of his visuals, in the big picture, according to Fricke, Samsara is the cycle of existence from birth to death and everything in between. We may not be aware of this as we watch, but there’s enough of a structure and visual continuity for us to find a significant story at play.
The clarity and poignancy of Fricke’s compositions recall the photographic work of Edward Burtinsky, the Toronto photographer renowned for showing the environmental and sociopolitical effects of Western man in large format photographic process. We can’t help but see the influence of these two artists in the Chinese factory sequence wherein we see the throngs of Chinese labourers entering a manufacturing facility wearing the same yellow jumpsuit, matching the colour theme of the buildings – an image captured by Burtinksy years before in still photography and in motion picture form in the documentary Manufactured Landscapes.
Samsara’s picture refreshingly absolves us of sociopolitical or environmental guilt of being part of the destruction of the world, instead simply lets us marvel at our own world for good and bad at what we have created.
Fricke, as usual, is fascinated with patterns, visually and contextually, connecting them across different cultures to highlight the similarities in our collective experiences as well as the effect or our hubris and self-absorption as human beings. Even when Fricke is on the nose with his statement-making the visual splendour of his images washes everything away.
Samsara is available on Blu-Ray from Entertainment One in Canada