Samsara is a Buddhist word that refers to the cycle of birth, life, death, and reincarnation. It carries with it a connotation of being attached to this physical plane, with all of its associated possibilities of pain and joy, love and suffering... of being unenlightened. Samsara is the opposite of nirvana which is true freedom from pain, suffering, and the individual experience of the outer world. And Fricke and Magidson chose themes, images, and sequences for this film that dramatically support this difference.
This film, like "Baraka," is hard to describe. It is more--or perhaps less?--than a documentary. Just like "Baraka," it is a meditation, a wordless experience that presents and suggests very large, even overwhelming ideas that are core to the human condition. It is like a dream, presenting images without words or explanation... and because of this form, the images resonate on a deeper level than if such ideas were to be written about or spoken of.
Filmed over nearly five years (the filmmakers started in 2006, after "Baraka") in twenty-five countries on five continents, and shot on glorious seventy-millimetre film, "Samsara" shows sacred grounds, disaster zones, industrial complexes, and natural wonders. It shows scenes of love and tenderness, scenes of technological and societal alienation, scenes of creation and destruction, scenes of lush forests and desolate deserts, and scenes of great beauty juxtaposed against the violence, hopelessness, and death inherent in the human experience.
And like "Baraka," we see some familiar sights. We return to Mecca, we return to many temples in Asia... but I am not complaining. While the concept and execution might not be revolutionary, what the filmmakers do is truly transcendent. The camera work is of course stunning. The way scenes are framed and tracked is gorgeous: one could remove any frame from this film and the result would be an exquisite work of art. And returning from "Baraka" are composer Michael Stearns and renowned singer and composer Lisa Gerrard (Dead Can Dance) who created the musical score. For "Samsara," the musical process was a little different. The film was edited in silence and given to Stearns, Gerrard, and composer Marcello De Francisci who composed the music in direct response to the visuals.
The result is a sense of mono no aware (see previous post here), the knowledge that what one is seeing is impermanent, transcendent, part of a world which will one day be destroyed. In this film, we are witness to all the good and bad that is possible, the beauty and torture, all the tender things, love, and lives that are lived and lost.
Recommend? Absolutely. This is about as perfect as any film can get. Like I mentioned earlier, this is a wordless meditation and requires an open mind and heart to fully appreciate the experience. If you need a film to be "about" something, perhaps this is not for you. But if you can immerse yourself in a stream of consciousness triggered by the world itself, you're in for a treat.