The art house empties
Reviewer's rating: 3/10
Assembled from impeccably photographed 70-millimetre sequences of our planet's forms and lives that forsake story and dialogue for visual input, the thrust of Ron Fricke's Samsara is the lack of spiritual awareness in Western lives. The film hopes to provoke an awakening among viewers and it certainly worked for me: by halfway through I was praying for it to end.
The movie's lineage stretches back to 1983's Koyaanisqatsi, the first instalment of Godfrey Reggio's Qatsi trilogy and a film on which Fricke was the director of photography before branching out on his own with Baraka in 1992. The philosophies, personnel and soundtracks are all somewhat different, but the idea remains the same - visual wonder gives us human intimacy, nature's force and technology's impact all in one globe-hopping package.
Three decades is a long time to preserve a cinematic belief and while Samsara has the same glistening clarity as previous works, it comes across as inconsequential and trite. Too often it relies on simple juxtaposition, beginning with the opening sequence of Balinese dancers giving way to a volcano spewing ash and lava.
Blockbusters are often criticised for being fragmented and reliant on overstimulation, and Samsara is the art-house equivalent. The production took in 25 countries, and individual pieces are easy to drift into (or out of). Apart from a vast Scandinavian poultry operation, where the placement and control of the animals suggests Fritz Lang's Metropolis, many of the sequences - including the mass choreography of Filipino prisoners - are already familiar online, and speeding up the footage of production lines and US gym-goers does nothing but force a verdict on the audience.
The filmmakers want to show the world is a remarkable place, but that it is also dangerously off-kilter. However, their technique is high-handed and vague, and by relying on fragments they do without the documentary's use of context and examination. A shot of a Palestinian man at an Israeli army checkpoint, for example, evokes tension but could mean anything.
Some scenes suggest better movies, whether it's Buddhist novices running through a temple (Martin Scorsese's Kundun) or helicopter shots of Los Angeles freeways (Michael Mann's Heat), and the film's view of the Third World is fixed and patronising. Samsara has a little something for everyone who wants to feel superior.
Rated PG, 102 minutes, opens Boxing Day