Samsara is a sumptuous, engaging and sometimes horrifying portrait of our world told through images. The film takes the audience through places around the world from religious sites to those where great disaster occurred. All the while, dialogue and plot are suspended, allowing the audience to immerse themselves in the world on screen.
It is difficult to review Samsara, as each audience member will surely take different things from it. With that in mind, I am going to suspend the voice of the reviewer – the one that I normally use – and write from my personal point of view.
The visuals in Samsara are simply breathtaking, but I found that just as I was about to be overwhelmed by them, they were snatched away from me. Thus the film was allowed to be moving but not overly indulgent. Of course there were scenes that upset me more than others, but that was due to my own beliefs and preconceptions. There are scenes filmed in an abattoir, but completely without judgement or editorialising; the audience is simply presented with these images and inevitably, their own beliefs determine how they interpret them. As a vegetarian, I found some of this sequence incredibly hard to watch and this, as well as the scenes of terrible squalor – waste and poverty – left me reeling. That said, the scenes of exquisite beauty also left me shaken, albeit in a different manner.
The film juxtaposes the beautiful and the terrible, the peaceful and the noisy, the quaint and the modern but leaves the audience to take from it what they will. Director Ron Fricke and producer Mark Magidson spent four years gathering footage around the world for the film, which is described as a continuation or sequel to their earlier film Bakara. The film bears similarities in style to Godfrey Reggio’s 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi; not least in it’s title. Koyaanisqatsi is a Hopi Indian word meaning ‘life out of balance’, and Samsara translates from Tibetan as ‘the ever turning wheel of life’. Both films literally look at our world through the eye of the camera, and leave the audience free to draw their own conclusions from what they see.
The visuals of Samsara are breathtakingly shot in 70mm, and the combination of these with music that combines the ancient and the modern makes for a truly engaging watch. I defy any audience member not to come out of Samsara feeling changed, moved or curious. The film solidified some of my beliefs, shook others and left me curious about the world around me.