Samsara – Film Review

By David Matthews

“Samsara”; film, 2011 is a meditative documentary which journeys through some of the earth’s most vast and diverse natural and cultural spaces. The term “Samsara”; used in Hinduism and Buddhism, relates to the material world, and describes death and rebirth as a continuous movement or cycle of life and existence.  Directed by Ron Fricke, “Samsara” was made as a continuation to Fricke’s 1992 film “Baraka”, and the 1985 “Chronos” of a similar style, reuniting again with the same producer Mark Magidson.

As a non-narrative documentary, Samsara relies heavily on cinematic techniques like time-lapse, and music and audio to portray its message and build its themes of time and movement. It begins by delivering a unique view, opening the viewer’s horizon depicting striking natural scenery and landscapes, painting a picture of beauty and awe, capturing wondrous imagery of the earth. It progresses into the realm of human existence, portraying some diverse cultural and spiritual scenery, simple human existence with the interest of living sustainably and in harmony with the earth, showing images of religion, ritual, culture, and nature.

The progressions of the film though flows on to more populous environments, building to human contemporary civilisations; ritualistic, fast-paced cityscapes, which morphs the idea of this beautiful ever-moving cycle of life into a more contrasted, damaging perception of it. “Samsara” highlights the efficiency of our city’s using scenes of intertwining motorways and factory lines, and provokes repulse at scenes of meat industry, and human wasteful living. It shows concerns with the processed nature of our existence, and the results and effects of it, like fast food diet, obesity, cosmetic procedures, mass production, waste management, and firearms.

The musical score in “Samsara” was composed by Michael Stearns, Lisa Gerrard, and Marcello De Francisci. Stearns also worked on both “Baraka” and “Chronos”, and Gerrard collaborated also on “Baraka”. Dissimilar to “Baraka” and “Chronos” though, “Samsara” was edited without sound and compositions were altered to the edited imagery. The music highlights the films perspective using tempo and pitch to enhance the visual material, and persuade an emotive response. Its contrasts flow and sporadic movement, and nice and warm, calming tone with discord harmonies and tension. It takes a lot of influence from world music, utilising various instruments and scales.  The music’s unconventional nature and juxtapositions add to the films ebb and flow.

“Samsara” is produced in a way that doesn’t seem to attempt to persuade you of any particular political view; it instead shows you real scenes and images in a way to direct your thought to draw your own ideas and conclusions. It combines much diversity to bring about a collective self-awareness of us as humans, and our connection to our planet, not stating for good or bad, rather questioning for better or for worse.