You might suspect Samsara to be just a couple hours of hardcore nature porn. You’d be half right.
Ron Fricke, the master photographer behind 1992’s Baraka, shot and directed Samsara, which moves like a lucid dream through landscapes, portraits and mechanisms of modern industrial society. Its tone is that of a meditation; there’s no plot or dialog, just images set to music. The experience, as a whole, is both frantic and flowing, like a time lapse — a shot Fricke executes with a curiosity that can be exquisite, funny, and sometimes harrowing.
Samsara, which means “continuous flow” in Sanskrit, suggests a relationship between landscapes and cultures, faces and histories, creators and their creations. The movie jumps, seemingly at a whim, all over the planet, shooting glaciers one moment and babies being baptized the next. Fricke, however, manages to find an elusive, emotional rhythm that connects the subjects that fall before his lens.
But just as Fricke’s camera glides over deserts and palaces, it also focuses on things that aren’t so pretty: like the mummified body of a child; or households and libraries left scarred and abandoned by Katrina; or the innards of a factory that turns pigs into pork chops. While these images aren’t inspiring, Fricke manages to form these sequences into huge, sobering question marks. It’s hard not to recall, when leaving the theater, the images of children living in makeshift houses built into mountains of garbage.
This is not to say Fricke’s movie is preachy. (There are no words, come on!) If anything, Samsara is about capturing the world’s pulse. The movie is not unlike a mandala – an intricate sand sculpture – it captures for a few moments as it’s made by monks in the Himalayas. The work exits for a time – full of colors, ideas, shapes, feelings, yet it’s rough around the edges, incomplete – until the hands of monks (or the clock) wash it into memory.
Samsara starts at the Lagoon Friday.