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Movie review: 'Samsara' picks up where Ron Fricke's 'Baraka' left off

Posted 3:01pm on Thursday, Oct. 04, 2012

PG-13 (disturbing images, partial nudity); 99 minutes

Twenty years ago, Samsara would have been a knockout. In fact, it was. Only then it was called Baraka.

Director-editor-cinematographer Ron Fricke's 1992 cinematic world tour offered stunning 70mm images and -- despite no dialogue or narration -- something akin to a narrative. His follow-up looks equally great, but it's less lucid. It's also, inevitably, less surprising.

Both of Fricke's features descend from Koyaanisqatsi, the 1982 visual essay that began a trilogy. Fricke worked as a cinematographer on that film, which contrasted images of natural beauty and urban frenzy.

Baraka and Samsara do the same, although with less vehemence. The movies (conceived with producer-editor Mark Magidson) shift between cosmic reverie, slightly trippy travel video and occasional bummers.

Like its predecessor, Samsara spotlights many religious structures and rituals. It also observes teeming cities, dramatic landscapes and industrial operations (including factory farms). One reason for the occasional doldrums is that Fricke's new movie revisits some of the same places. It also has a similar New-Agey score, composed in part by Baraka veteran Michael Stearns and featuring the same soprano, Dead Can Dance's Lisa Gerrard.

So what's new in Fricke's wide world? Quite a bit, including gun cultism, Dubai's grandiose developments, Israel's West Bank separation fence and an exercise yard full of dancing Filipino convicts. Samsara finds the world a little less blessed than it was two decades ago, yet still beautiful.

Exclusive: Angelika Dallas; Angelika Plano

-- Mark Jenkins,

Special to The Washington Post

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