Samsara (***½)

A cinematographically brilliant documentary film meant to be a guided meditation filled with breathtaking landscapes and beautiful performances over the span of 58 countries, Samsara (2012) defines the world by its very meaning, impermanence. Referring to the life cycles in the ever-changing world we live in, Samsara contains a series of comparisons between desolate images and vibrant colors. Seeing the devastation in one makes the audience appreciate the beauty in the next. Hundreds of faces, thousands of stories, and the stillness of the frame by which the audiences look through to them just draws the audience in all the more.
Samsara is a continuation of a series of collaborations between producer Mark Magidson and director Ron Fricke. All photographed on 70mm (65mm negative), each frame of color is dripping with adventure, while whispering feels of relaxation to the audience. Edited together first, with no dialogue, Michael Stearns, Lisa Gerrard, and Marcello De Francisci were brought on after the entire film was put together to create music for the silent film. As Magidson admitted, due to music rights issues, all of the original sounds from clapping and feet stomping to machinery and wind blowing were put in to help along the feel of the film.

Many of the astoundingly beautiful performances were scouted through YouTube and other online mediums. From there, rights and permits, traveling arrangements for the small crew took the most time, which eventually led to the completion of the project five years after it started. In a Q&A session after the screening, Magidson answered many questions on behalf of Fricke because Fricke was already on another shoot. But, the only direction Fricke gave the performers or subjects in the sequences, if any, was to be still and try not to blink. Known for his time-lapse photography, Fricke delivers beautiful frames, smooth movements of the camera, and majestic images that takes the audience on a journey into themselves through exterior means.

Fricke (L) and Magidson (R)
In a series of short video interviews on Vimeo, the creators give a small spiel about how Samsara ought to affect the audience. Fricke talks about the power of flow that was consistent between the edit and the music. Stearns explains that the music ought to serve the audience as “a context for participation with yourself,” and how the audience will interpret different images to mean different things that is personal to oneself. And Magidson, as he mentioned in the Q&A after the screening, talks about the differences between Samsara and its predecessors and how the film brings very different people from very different cultures can see that they are a part of “the phenomenon of being alive at this moment.”


From beginning until the end, I enjoyed every frame, every note, and appreciated the journey into myself through images that provoked and stirred emotions within myself that I hadn’t felt in a long time. In the fast-paced world we live in, enduring constant changes without a break from the ticking clocks, Samsara is a moment where I sat and thought. No words were spoken; only music played. No one on the screen looked at me; but I saw a reflection of my soul in them. Every moment of every frame, Samsara captivated my attention and held it until the very end. More aware of myself than I had been going in, I felt changed leaving the theater and returning to my life’s stage. Those stories, experiences, and feelings stayed with me and calmed me hours after the movie ended. I walked in, a worn down soul; I walked out, a refreshed spirit.