Meditative stream of images in 'Samsara' raises questions
"Samsara," a dazzlingly beautiful documentary directed by Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson, consists of a non-narrative stream of images shot in 25 countries. It is best enjoyed as a kind of meditation, writes Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald in this review. The film is playing at Seattle's Cinerama.
Seattle Times movie critic
'Samsara,' a documentary directed by Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson. 99 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some disturbing and sexual images. Cinerama.
The directors will be present for a Q&A at the 8 p.m. show Saturday. Tickets for that show only will be $25, available at cinerama.com.
Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson's stream-of-images documentary "Samsara" floats by, its pictures piling up like turned pages in a magazine. Shot in 70mm and playing on Cinerama's massive screen, it's often dazzlingly beautiful — a shot of clouds erupting like cotton over a volcano; a massive church whose windows are a candy-colored kaleidoscope of stained glass; an elaborate tabletop mosaic meticulously crafted by monks from colored sand, only to finally be brushed away, blown into rainbow dust. Other moments are haunting — such as an abandoned beach house partly filled with sand, its doors wedged permanently open — or disturbing, such as the footage taken in a chicken factory, or a row of faces, emptied of all but anger, in a prison.
The filmmakers, who previously made the similarly structured "Baraka" and "Chronos," traveled to 25 different countries to capture these images (though we're never told the location of any scene), and the resulting movie is certainly compelling. But while it has a loose structure — birth to death, though it's not always easy to see the progression — it feels like a series of individual movies, rather than a coherent whole. I found myself wanting to know more, or at least something, about that abandoned house (where was it? what happened?), or the scars on a military veteran's face, or the young girl who so fiercely held her own pink gun, or the performance artist who eerily transforms his appearance with mud and paint.
"Samsara," I think, works best if you can turn off that questioning voice and experience it like a meditation, letting its gentle but often eerie music lull you into a quiet state. Visually, it's often remarkable — even if, like those multicolored sands, it too quickly slips away.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or email@example.com