When about to watch a silent, visually experimental documentary, an inevitable sense of caution kicks in as you fear the next 100 minutes will be both tedious and pretentious. However that isn't the case at all in Ron Fricke's absorbing and affecting feature film Samsara.
In a similar mould to Fricke's début feature Baraka - which captured human life in 1992 - Samsara offers a more contemporary, up-to-date account of the world, as Fricke filmed over the course of five years, across 25 separate nations. We visit natural wonders - from deserts to volcanoes, to sacred grounds, before delving into an affecting study of human life, as Fricke depicts the harrowing world of battery hens, to the dangerous lives of gun wielding Americans. Samsara takes a frank, poignant look at the world as we know it, with a beautiful combination of both natural and man-made environments.
Fricke gets the structure spot on in Samsara, by presenting natural wonders and landscapes initially, before then moving into the human race and how destructive we are. It's difficult to truly realise until around half way into the feature, but there is a really strong message being portrayed within this picture, as Fricke makes us question the human race and the futility of war and all of its consequences. Such a notion is effectively enhanced as Fricke takes a tepid, tranquil approach for the early stages, whilst the latter end of the film is extremely fast paced.
Samsara comes across as being against Westernisation, as we look into the mundane routines of everyday life. Fricke portrays how destructive desire and lust can be, also looking at the sex industry and prostitution. Although perhaps Samsara is somewhat of a one-sided representation, as although there is a strong and succinct political underlying message, we only predominantly look at the negative impact humans have had on the world, as most of the more positive aspects to the film come through nature.
Samsara not only lacks any dialogue, but is without narration also - which has both positive and negative aspects. The argument for having narration is that at the beginning of the picture when we are presented with notable buildings and sceneries some information of where they are and the history behind them would be gratefully appreciated, bringing some context to the visuals. I mean, imagine if frozen planet didn't have Sir David Attenborough's voice-over? It would just be lots of unexplainable ice. Having said that, if there was ever an instance of actions speaking louder than words, then Samsara is it. Narration would in fact slow this feature down, and the fact it's solely a visual experience is the films unique selling point.
As for the visuals presented, some of the imagery is absolutely beautiful and captivating to the watching faithful. Of course there are some scenes that are relatively boring and there are a handful of sequences that are very difficult to watch - but on the whole Samsara keeps you gripped from start to finish.
Credit must go the way of Fricke for this wonderful accomplishment as a beautifully arranged, and thought-provoking feature. Samsara is a film that remains in your thoughts for days after seeing it, as an emotive and inspiring piece of film making.