TIFF Journal: ‘Samsara’

The director of ‘Chronos‘ and ‘Baraka‘ has a new film? Hell yes, I’m going to see that on the big screen, the bigger the better!

If you’ve seen either of those earlier productions, you should know the drill by now. If you haven’t, then reading my review of ‘Baraka’ should pretty much give you the gist of this new ‘Samsara’ as well. Director Ron Fricke specializes in wordless montages of images photographed around the world. While that may not sound terribly exciting on paper, the results on screen make for sublime visual poetry.

Like ‘Baraka’ before it, ‘Samsara’ was photographed in stunning 65mm format. Fricke has an amazing eye, and he (or his producer Mark Magidson) manages to find and obtain access to beautiful objects and locations in this world that are rarely seen by Western eyes otherwise.

‘Samsara’ is very much of a piece with ‘Baraka’, and has no story, plot or characters to describe here. If I have any complaints about the film, they’re quite minor. A couple of the sequences feel, if not directly recycled from previous efforts, then at least repetitive of them. For example, both ‘Baraka’ and ‘Samsara’ have footage of Mecca during the Hajj, and I recognized at least one location previously used in ‘Chronos’. The film also has a few blunt juxtapositions (such as the interior of a munitions factory that cuts to the badly-mangled face of a war veteran, or the disturbing workings of a food processing plant jumping to some obese people eating fast food in time-lapse) that hit you over the head with their preachiness. Fortunately, these are few and far between.

Regardless, the imagery here is just amazing, and the experience of seeing a proper presentation of it on the big screen cannot be matched at home. Before my screening here at TIFF, we were told that the 65mm negative had been digitally scanned and oversampled at 8k resolution (much like the ‘Baraka’ Blu-ray), and that the theater installed a brand new Christie 4k projector specifically for this event. It was simply breathtaking to watch.

I managed to ask director Fricke if he’s felt any pressure to shoot one of these in 3D next. He said that he had already been thinking about it.

Rating: ★★★★☆


  1. August Lehe

    Josh, are you aware on any real comparisons of the many large negative and screen processes and their ability to provide a truly Hi-Def Transfer? I’ve heard theories supporting everything from Todd A/O, 70mm IMAX, VistaVision, Cinemascope 55 to Cinemiracle (before it was eaten by Cinerama). What do you guys think? Which systems (of those actually used to SHOOT film feature films)were, or would be best at providing a Hi-Def experience? Any guesses?

    • Josh Zyber

      One of the problems with these large film formats is that the equipment needed to transfer them to video is very specialized. As I recall, Warner Bros’ Blu-ray editions of Mutiny on the Bounty and Grand Prix (both originally shot in 65mm) were both sourced from 35mm reduction film elements.

  2. Luke Hickman

    I haven’t seen a single film you mention here, but your description of them makes me want to see them immediately.

  3. Jane Morgan

    ‘Baraka’ might be the greatest film-poem of all time.

    In particular, the sequence with ‘The Host Of Seraphim’ by Dead Can Dance.

    Does ‘Samsara’ do anything that spectacular with its soundtrack?

    • Josh Zyber

      At the time I saw the movie at TIFF, the producers hadn’t found a distributor yet. (It was only the second public screening.) I don’t know what the current status or plans are.

      The filmmakers were very hands-on with the Blu-ray edition of Baraka. I have to imagine that they’d like to put this one on the format as well.