This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 3rd March 2013
Not being a big fan of National Geographic documentaries, what a pleasant surprise then to settle in to a film that feels like a museum visit set to beautiful music.
An anthropological journey across the planet (over four years of filming, the makers traversed five continents and 25 countries), Samsara‘s creators, who also made 1992’s Baraka, take you to places you will never go, show you things you may wish not to see, and open your eyes to the extraordinary variety of geography and people in this world.
From the painted-on beauty of young Thai dancers to the awe and majesty of a volcano erupting, we get closer than is possible in any other situation, able to take in every nuance of rituals and cultures that are utterly foreign. Disaster zones are photographed impassively (the soundtrack is understated, respecting the audience’s intelligence to know when something is shocking or not), and tiny details left for us to notice by chance: footage of an abandoned, bombed-out village pans across a bookshelf where a copy of “The Village that Allah Forgot” remains untouched.
The richness certainly makes you believe that life without colour is not worth examining – astonishing beauty abounds, from big city night lights to the painstaking work of monks creating a vivid pattern out of coloured sand.
There are disturbing scenes and moments where, appalled and fascinated, it’s impossible to look away – the art installation of the clay-faced man is as horrifying as the scenes of abbatoirs and factory-line production where thousands of bright pinkly-clad workers harvest chicken meat.
While some of the segues are less than subtle, the film makes no bones about the breadth of filth and beauty that makes us humankind.