2012, PG-13, 99 min. Directed by Ron Fricke.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 14, 2012

The rhythms of the planet reverberate in the cycles of life. Maybe that’s what the filmmakers want us to understand after watching Samsara, a wordless collection of stunning images from around the world. Made by director Ron Fricke and his collaborator Mark Magidson, who last filmed 1992’s Baraka using similar techniques, Samsara functions like global wallpaper for personal meditation. The film could “mean” just about anything, although the title’s translation as ”the ever-turning wheel of life” directs us toward the search for the eternal life force. Shot over a period of five years, Samsara travels the globe to record images of sacred places and natural wonders. These peaceful, harmonious pictures contrast with those taken in the film’s other main locales: disaster zones and industrial wastelands. It’s all part of life, I suppose: the good and the bad. Or maybe the filmmakers are trying to tell us that life doesn’t have to be this way.

Certainly, Samsara builds on its early images of peaceful, serene, and nonindustrialized settings toward increasingly hectic and fraught images of traffic, slums, office cubicles, and factory assembly lines of blow-up sex dolls. Soldiers stand guard at checkpoints, face-painted African tribal figures pose with guns, and the Wailing Wall looks as though it’s waiting for Joshua to sound the call. I’m not a big fan of this style of vague, imagistic filmmaking. It seems to me that since Koyaanisqatsi in 1982, for which Fricke served as the director of photography, every other film of this sort has been repetition. It’s not unpleasant, and certainly nothing that wouldn’t improve with the ingestion of a couple of tabs of acid, but really, that shouldn’t be necessary to make sense of a film. I’d be happy to have the lovely, 70mm images of Samsara as my computer screensaver, but I can’t pretend that they combine for more collective substance than a series of adorable cat pictures.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Ron Fricke Films
This New Age tone poem captures images from 24 countries that transcend geographical and language barriers.

Pamela Bruce, Dec. 17, 1993

More by Marjorie Baumgarten
The French
Astounding record of life on and off court in tennis's glory years

June 17, 2022

Fanny: The Right to Rock
Rocking reminder of the pioneering all-woman band

June 10, 2022


Samsara, Ron Fricke

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle