Ron Fricke’s Samsara is a stunning and thought-provoking tour de force that makes you question what it is to be human, while also showing how the time and location of your birth is everything in regards to where your path will take you.
With fetishism, food manufacturing, bareback carrying of heavy rock up mountain peaks and gun crime all touched upon, Samsara proves to be a whirlwind of emotions that will make you angry, shocked, elated, fascinated and heartbroken in equal measure – all without a single line of dialogue.
The opening is the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, with a selection of the world’s most glorious landscapes focused on and the requirement of David Attenborough’s narration never far from the back of your mind. But Samsara has plenty of surprises in store and develops into a must-see whistle-stop tour of the world that will ensure your jaw never leaves the ground.
Taking its origins from the Sanskrit word for ‘cyclic existence’, religion is a clear focal point in Samsara and proves both mystifying and fascinating for a Western audience, with the intensity of the pilgrimage to Mecca and the shared emotions at the Wailing Wall something that proves rather alien, yet always wholly captivating.
However it’s not just religion that’s at the forefront, with war and politics strongly overriding proceedings. But amongst all the desolation and disaster areas there are people who are (albeit possibly through keeping up appearances) happy with their lot, leaving us feeling both incredibly blessed and ashamed for the material things we take for granted. But these big questions and political subtext should never be referred to as self-indulgent when they form part of such an insightful showcase of our planet. And thankfully, amidst the very heavy focus on life and death, Fricke finds moments of humour that are often unintentional, but lead to welcome amusement, from the unhappy faces of children being baptised to a mass of prisoners dancing in an open space within their confines.
Samsara may leave some viewers wanting to become vegetarians. It may leave some wanting to travel the world or clear up a disaster zone. But what is doesn’t do is make you feel like you are being brainwashed or expected to agree with Fricke’s opinion. Though it is clear to see that he has a lot to say about the state of the world, he lets the cinematography and personal tales do the talking, never pulling the strings more than he should.
With possibly the most incredible colours and landscapes that have ever been committed to film, Samsara forms consistently coherent episodes that show how, even when other cultures may appear alien, everything is connected. Patience may be a necessity for this visually mind blowing masterpiece, but will be unlike anything you’ve ever seen and is far more about humanity than the opening shots of volcanoes would lead you to believe.