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Manuel de Layet [Film Festival 09.13.12] documentary


Fifteen years ago my Art Direction teacher introduced our motley crew of students to Baraka, saying that with dedication, hard work and patience we might on day hope to achieve the tenth of it. As blunt as it was, he was right. This was a masterpiece from cinematography to score. I've watched countless times since then. Always amazed at the quiet beauty of the picture and the tranquil bitter-sweet mood emanating from it. Always considering it an unsurpassed landmark in what we French pompously call "le cinema du reel".

For years I heard stories of a new opus being shot any-time soon, the wait and doubt are finally over. Of course with that much anticipation from my part there was a risk of being totally disappointed from SAMSARA. It's always like that, you get a momentum of hope going like a landslide and more often than not, it crashes against the reality of the final product. This time however tectonic were my expectations, they were fulfilled. And then some.

The first thought that crossed my still shaken mind when the credits ended was "We need to send this movie into space, as a legacy of Mankind for alien worlds."

Like a well behaved sequel, this one begins where Baraka ended, and will accordingly to its title revisit the same themes from a higher perspective. With a few twists here and there. Oversimplifying the semiotics I'd say that, where Baraka was about the place of mankind in the world, Samsara is more about the place of the world in mankind. Nature is less dominant than previously, this is exacerbated in the absence of animals except livestocks, man made creature serving a man made purpose.

We still are shown the most beautiful places of the world. But beautiful do not mean pretty nor joyful, there is beauty in sorrow and desolation. Were Baraka, as the breath of life it was, was showingus the beginning of the cycle, we now are brought to it's conclusion.

Ruins are a predominant part of the landscapes, ancient and modern ones. As Balzac said, one day he was more inspired than usual, Architecture is, to some extend, the expression of the culture and civilisation of a nation. This echoed in me when seeing beautiful ruins of late antiquity still standing proudly in the face of time and modern buildings and landscapes already crumbling to dust. Luxury buildings being taken stone be stone into the growing favella nested at their foot.

The beehive rendering of human labour is still here, industrial site in al their Taylor-ed absurdity, production linees where endless rows of workers repeat the same debilitating tasks. And then there's food, the cute little chick we saw whizzing about conveyors belts are now full grown chicken, killed and transformed into food for the bulging masses of the world. If you grew up thinking meat came from plastic containers, this will be a real eye opener, the whole food industry is given a strikingly poetic treatment. From the cow to the overly obese and pudgy looking man gulping a hamburger. One full cycle. Birth, Death, and Rebirth as a walking wall of lard. From the animal cow to the human one.

The same treatment goes for the core cycle of our lives, we are born, before that people had sex. In Baraka we where shown a seedy Asian brothel, with girls that a gentleman could only call tired, this segment is still here, a little adapted to the new markets of sexual exploitation, aka lovedolls in all their grotesque reality. There's still a brothel, with a smiling workforce of ladyboys.

The list could go on, but it would be stupid on my part of imparting my analysis shot by shot on a movie that must be experienced first and foremost. What I can do anyway is relate my feelings towards the whole.

Mostly they focus on one central notion, that however beautiful, breathtaking, provoking and whatever-ing this movie is, it is NOT uplifting. Never before a film showed me with such strength and flair how little is our despicable species in the universe. How vain, ill-advised and lacking of culture we are as a whole, how Humanity in its core never evolved past petty tribal schemes and that our only drive is our own vanity.

And yet, from all that scum, emerges something more, still vanity of course, but the feeling of being a God surveying its creation. Not judgemental and still a bit sad at the lack of progress of the dominant creature.

Still, until the desert swallows us all like the impermanent ants we are, we can hold unto this masterpiece as the most striking snapshot of our presence in the universe.

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quietearth (8 years ago) Reply

This is so uplifting, my faith in humanity has been restored.



Cobaltie (8 years ago) Reply

I didn't have many expectations because the first I heard there was a sequel to Baraka--which I, too, watched back in film class in college--was the announcement for the showing here in Seattle. Still, I was by no means disappointed.

The comparison I made between Baraka and Samsara, because there are obvious parallels visually made, was that Baraka was about man vs. nature, and Samsara was about man vs. himself. Both had the highs and lows portrayed, but Samsara delved more deeply into the concept of Impermanence. In that way it reminded me of the far-more-pessimistic Koyaanisquatsi, but with much more effort to contrast the ugly with the beautiful.

This was an amazing sequel to a movie I never thought would have one. It was worth the wait.


Bobloblaw (8 years ago) Reply

It is a beautiful film. And it has a number of disturbing reminders of what we do to ourselves and to nature to maintain the industrial society.


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