The notion that cinema is a transportative medium is ultimately a superficial by-product of wishful thinking, true escapism is achieved by shifting your ass and getting the hell out of dodge. Duh. In this case, Ron Fricke has done just that as he retraces his steps from Koyaanisqatsi and Baraka (never heard of them? You have now) to bring us an existential global exploration of civilisation. Spanning five continents and capturing everything from traditional dance, national landmarks and the meat industry on 70mm film stock (a rarely used elite format bested only by IMAX). Although, the formula of humanitarian third world aggrandising-cum Western guilt trip does rear its platitudinous head. But don’t let that put you off.

Anyone familiar with the Qatsi trilogy and Fricke’s previous outing Baraka could see the pattern even in 1992; natural order is eventually swamped by impersonal industrialisation run amok. Ten years later the message isn’t so much irrelevant as it is trite. The true success of the film here is the gorgeous array of images. Faces are treated with the same grandeur as the many landscapes we soar across. Minute detail is captured with pinpoint clarity to spare. We witness a group of Tibetan monks painting a mural with grains of sand, painstakingly applying each different colour with loving accuracy, only then to brush away their work like dust. The image quality and the drama here fall hand in hand with the awe that these people and places exist without an iota of artifice.

It is ironic however, given that the literal translation of the film’s namesake is ‘continuous flow’ that pacing isn’t (as was equally problematic in Baraka) Fricke’s forte. Like Baraka, we’re treated to a profound montage of startling images set to ethereal music before the first hour mark. After that point, each film has already shot its wad and is then doomed to going through the typical protocols set by the subgenre Fricke and previous collaborator Godfrey Reggio established in the first place. Admittedly, the drag is elevated somewhat with visits to Cebu Province’s now world famous (thanks to viral video of inmates dancing to ‘Thriller’) maximum security prison and a courtyard of two-thousand kung fu students enacting fight stances in near-dystopic unison. But you still are left with fatigue, even with the sight of hundreds of thousands of Muslims swirling around the Kaaba in breathtaking 70mm timelapse.

This is the year’s best audio/visual experience, no contest and its many visual wonders are too many to evoke here. Ideally, should the reader see Samsara anywhere it must be in a dark theatre with the biggest screen available to the film (a difficult prospect given its arthouse pedigree), seated in the middle row to give yourself enough distance for the screen to comfortably envelop your peripheral vision (equally difficult given that it currently has no IMAX release, unlike Resident Evil Retribution).  The odds aren’t in its favour, but if anything that should be viewed as a mark of prestige than a deterrent. Its pleasures are simple, its flaws minimal but its impact, majestic.


Edward Westman

A schmuck who watches too many movies. Currently building a portfolio in Graphic Design, with a First Class Honours in Media Production under his belt and an unparalled fascination with movies.