Samara Directed by: Ron Fricke & Mark Magidson Documentary Running Time: 1 hr 34 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: Sept 7, 2012 (Chicago)
PLOT: A series of visual sequences captured around the world that express universal themes of life and death.
WHO'S IT FOR? If you like massive films, and are open to the idea of filmed sequences not having a narrative, then Samsara is an eye-opening treat for you. If you wished someone would use the scope of something like The Dark Knight Rises towards documenting real wonder, here's Samsara.
When alien historians saunter down to our planet to clean up after 2017's World War Oops, we'd better hope that they uncover Samsara when writing their research books on Earth culture. With no immediate parallel but to its predecessors Baraka and Chronos, it is a film that best condenses the diversity and simultaneous universality of existence on our planet, all while showing the remarkable potentials of human beings to create, destroy, and re-create. It is just, then, that Samsara would be a passion project captured by the most encompassing, and greatest form of art created by man.
Like its aforementioned predecessors, Samsara is a documentary with only its poetic connections between its images to create a thematic narrative. Capturing footage from a touted five continents, Samsara is an experience that doesn't educate viewers about the content on screen (but instead opens their minds to a universality between subjects of many different backgrounds (National Geographic, this is not).
The primal importance of the pure visual is returned to film with Samsara, an expansive meditative documentary focused on the spectacle. Finding great power in scope, Samsara's astounding visuals do not receive their beauty and size from special effects. Instead, these sequences are essentially unofficial wonders of the world, as filmed by a camera that operates only within the moral bounds of a purist cinematographer.
As it captures these world wonders, Samsara is itself a spectacle. Just like the image of seeing hundreds and hundreds of children perform syncopated karate moves, or gazing upon thousands of people at Mecca, the usage of such a camera in these environments holds an artistically equivalent impressiveness. It is natural, and its image subsequently unmodified. It is the work of extreme dedication, as Samsara uses man-made elements to capture something that has now only become to be believed with the help of technology.
Aside from cinematography, Samsara is also a large triumph of editing, another important and organic element to creating movies (or as it is sometimes called in books, cinema). While the film sets a challenge for itself of running over 90 minutes without any narrative, there are enough images, and enough extremely interesting yet diverse sequences, that the running time doesn't turn into a viewer's chore. Instead, Samsara succeeds in being meditative, (aside from a preachy part about food packaging industries). Especially if received with curiosities wide open, it's the type of movie you find yourself lost in.
The film's 70mm imagery, with only natural cinematic concepts like lighting, careful framing, and time-lapses being used, is a stunning thing to witness itself. Indeed a project inspired by our ambitious planet, Samsara is a massive movie that is able to wrap its head around the hugeness of our world. It accurately conveys the ability our planet has to leave its viewers in awe.
FINAL SCORE: 8/10