My research into social and behavioural patterns prompted me to watch Baraka (Fricke, 1992). Today I watched Fricke’s follow-up, Samsara (Fricke, 2011).
I enjoyed Samsara as much as its predecessor, but that’s probably because it’s a very, very similar film. Both stylistically and thematically it’s often more of the same. It’s still beautiful, and at times moving to watch, but a lot of the impact was lost, because a lot of it feels repetitive. But, I still enjoyed it and found the investigation of its themes interesting.
Samsara explores the concept of physical, spiritual and metaphorical rebirth. And it’s particularly focused on the human desire to secure this rebirth after death; the desire to live on in some form.
Fricke presents images of religion and faith as obvious examples of the search for spiritual rebirth, paying close attention to the effort and expense spent in paying tribute to mythological and religious powers. He also chooses music with ecclesiastical overtones, which connote the spiritual. This imagery and sound-scape is familiar ground to anyone who’s seen Baraka and it’s maybe too obvious in referencing the theme. In contrast, a sequence of ‘trivial’ monuments is much more interesting. Here Fricke shows the audience images of an abandoned and destroyed towns. But instead of focusing on the grand buildings and stately monuments, he chooses to present images of a more mundane life: school rooms, train stations, and ordinary homes. It’s a more human reminder that everything decays and dies, every civilization eventually falls, but we live on through the monuments that we leave behind.
Children feature prominently in Samsara as another way that we can metaphorically achieve immortality, another form of rebirth. Fricke intersperses the film with images of children learning from and imitating adults, carrying forward familial and cultural traditions. We also see several images of parents demonstrating a deep love for their children, a love that is eternal and will be felt long after the parent’s (or the child’s) death.
Fricke uses timelapse photography extensively to create a strong sense of the passage of time. But he also points to the cyclical nature of birth, death and rebirth by using it to show the natural cycles of day and night, and of stars circling in the night sky.
Another cyclical reference appears in Fricke’s choice of locations, some of which he also captured in Baraka. It’s a personal link back to his earlier work that is similar to Chris Marker’s reference to La Jetée (Marker, 1962) in San Soleil (Marker, 1983).
The idea that we need to make ourselves feel special, to rise above the banal and achieve some kind of metaphorical immortality is another theme running through Samsara. We see images of people who have painted, tattooed or adorned their bodies as physical representations of a spiritual desire. And we also see the dedicated gym goers and cosmetic surgery patients, devotees to modern ideals of beauty which have evolved in tandem with the rise of consumerism.
Fricke touches on the rise of consumerism and its place as a modern religion when he presents images of Dubai, a unique juxtaposition of a devoutly religious society which is also a haven for consumerism.
He also targets another modern “religion”, the mirror of consumerism that is environmentalism. He shows the audience scenes of industrialized recycling; the physical rebirth of the trappings of a materialistic society.
Fricke uses a lot of reflections (especially in water) in Samsara, often showing an object and its reflection in sequence. Perhaps another reference the theme of rebirth and the concept of living on in another form?
This idea is also prevalent in one of the final scenes of the film, in which monks destroy a beautiful piece of art which has taken hours of diligent and delicate work to craft. We never know why they do this, why they spend so much time creating something so beautiful only to destroy it, but we’re left feeling that it wasn’t the finished artwork that was important. It seems that the process is what matters, and that process will be repeated again and again, in a never ending cycle of creation and recreation.
Fricke, R. (1992) Baraka, Magidson Films
Fricke, R. (2011) Samsara, Magidson Films
Marker, C. (1962) La Jetée, Argos Films
Marker, C. (1983) Sans Soleil, Argos Films