Samsara: Guided Meditation in Ravishing Super Panavision 70
Whether it strikes you as a profound, perspective-shifting spiritual travelogue or the cinematic equivalent of a forgettable new-age music loop, this followup to 1992's Baraka by director Ron Fricke and producer Mark Magidson nails its intent as "guided meditation." Zigzagging through 25 countries in ravishing Super Panavision 70, Samsara plumbs its titular conceit — the Buddhist/Hindu notion of cosmic cyclicity and earthly suffering — with a visual panache that short-circuits the need for narrative discipline (and dialogue; like its predecessor, Samsara is entirely nonverbal). From corporeal subjects in an Ethiopian village and a São Paulo cathedral to inanimate relics on Turkey's Mount Nemrut and in the devastated Ninth Ward of New Orleans, the film's imagery is epic and trance-inducing. It's the "guided" part where Samsara stumbles. Civilization's hyper-mechanized Malthusian horror show is captured with inventive flair (a mass dance sequence in a Filipino prison is a stunning highlight), but it's undercut by an underlying smugness and complementary mush-brained Eastern fetishism that toe right up to elitism. Clichéd wraparound sequences in a Ladakh mountain monastery are the tip-off, but a preoccupation with factory grunts, office drones, destitute trash-pickers, and fat, burger-slamming Yanks as exemplars of humanity's failings — no high-salaried overachievers or bourgies of any stripe appear among Samsara's parade of the lost — outs Fricke and Magidson as high-minded aesthete snobs.
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