Oct 10, 2012

See it if only for the cinematography.

Grade: A
Director: Ron Fricke (Baraka)
Screenplay: Fricke, documentary
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 102 min
by John DeSando

Samsara frequently juxtaposes contrasting images related to religion, birth, death, and transcendence. Each image, be it of pagodas in a mist or a baby’s toes, could be right out of a splendid coffee table book of National Geographic pictures.

So, this lyrical documentary can be appreciated on several levels such as photographic excellence, the ironies of nature, or the complexity of humanity. The decimation of the Ninth Ward in New Orleans can contrast with the beauty of a colorful sand Mandela carefully constructed and destroyed by Buddhist monks.  The evanescence of human constructs and the permanence of Nature can further be highlighted by shots of the stone monuments in Arizona and Utah.

Director Ron Fricke of Baraka (1992) teams again with producer Mark Magidson to employ Super Panavision 70 and time-lapse photography for jaw-dropping images in what Magidson calls “guided meditation.” Although nonverbal, the message is clear: Man has yet to create enduring structures such as nature’s, but splendid Mont St. Michel and the Dubai Tower are pretty good attempts.

The multi-limbed goddess of Balinese dancers is both precious and  colorful, a moving image of women's beauty that promises immortality. A flash-mob-like dance in a Filipino prison is as powerful an evocation of the contradictions in human nature as any of the monolithic constructs of nature.

If you like cinematography, and even if you don’t like heavy-handed messages, this film will give you beautiful images that you can see nowhere else, even when you see them in person—that’s the magic of movies.

John DeSando co-hosts WCBE 90.5’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics, which can be heard streaming and on-demand at
He also appears on Fox 28’s Man Panel
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