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SAMSARA (director/writer: Ron Fricke; screenwriter: Mark Magidson; cinematographer: Ron Fricke; editors: Mark Magidson/Ron Fricke; music: Michael Stearns/Lisa Gerrard; Runtime: 102; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Mark Magidson; Oscilloscope Laboratories; 2011)

It’s filled with religious and worldly images that encourage us to reflect on them and interpret them according to our own experiences.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Samsara is a Sanskrit word meaning “the ever-turning wheel of life.” In other words it’s an Eastern religious term for the cycle of birth, death, and reincarnation. If unable to gain enlightenment, according to Buddhists, this life cycle will go on forever.

Director Ron Fricke (“Baraka”) filmed this festive colorful, travelogue-like documentaryover a period of five years in twenty-five countries on five continents, and shot in the 70mm film format. It’s filled with religious and worldly images that encourage us to reflect on them and interpret them according to our own experiences. In the background it infuses a sensual original music that connects us with both the ancient and modern world. Its full spiritual message is too obscure to be ascertained, as it seems more interested in being a trippy stoner pic that makes the viewer feel good watching such a non-threatening indulgent invasion of our senses. It encourages meditation, but stubs its toe when it awkwardly tries to crawl out of its superficiality to strive for some depth. Because it makes no attempt at narrative, the film is best enjoyed when just absorbing the images and going with the breezy flow of the film.

It opens with student Tibetan Buddhist monks going through with some of their rituals, like turning the prayer wheel, and ends with adult Tibetan Buddhist monks breaking up a beautiful sand mandala they just created to show everything in the world is transient. What comes between those sequences is such things as factory assembly line workers in China, orthodox Jews praying at the temple Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, tremendous crowds of pilgrims circling the Kaaba in Mecca during the Hajj, men and women showing off their tattooed bods, Thai bar-girls dancing in bikinis, Shaolin trainees in a giant courtyard intensely carrying out a choreographed exercise, shots of overcrowded chickens in a gigantic chicken coop, using time-lapsed photography to show an obese family wolfing down a meal in a fast-food restaurant, children baptized with holy water while cradled by their anxious parents, Gothic cathedrals of Versailles, religious women in burqas strolling in a Dubai mall while ironically passing nearly nude store models for underwear and an African is solemnly buried in a pistol-shaped coffin.

Stoners are a natural for this pic, as are straight viewers who can get off on the dazzling beauty of the visuals and how some things in the world are just plain strange.If you dug the 1982 film “Koyaanisqatsi,” where Mr. Fricke worked as a cinematographer, then the odds are in favor of you also liking this film.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”