Baraka (1992)

In honor of Samsara, which opened in limited theaters this weekend, my pick this week is Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson’s, Baraka. I didn’t get the opportunity to see it in 1992 when it was released so I missed out an what must have been an incredible theater-going experience. A film like Baraka begs to be seen on the big screen, if not in IMAX. I’ll be sure to catch Samsara in all its lush glory.

The film doesn’t have a narrative other than what you yourself might piece together from images taken of 24 countries and 6 continents. It’s a meditative journey as you soar through impossibly beautiful vistas to the ambient music  of Michael Sterns. It’s the kind of film that asks you to sit in awe of planet’s treasures as well as the incredible contributions mankind has made to it. Fricke’s lens glides smoothly through the holiest of temples like a wondering spirit and peers deep into the Earth’s crust. At times, it’s like being a visitor to an alien world. The landscapes can be strikingly otherworldly.

The camera doesn’t shy away from the planet’s inhabitants though. Through non-verbal stares and silent ritualistic dances, we get a glimpse of cultures that span the globe. Their eyes tell their stories.  There are no explanations offered to explain their rituals. It’s simply an opportunity to appreciate how diverse a people we are. The film juxtaposes the beauty humans are capable of with our knack for destruction. One can’t help but feel pangs of anger when shown the deep, permanent scars we’ve  left on the planet during our single-minded drive for resources, power, and wealth.

Baraka is presented as an artistic, spiritual piece. It uses the nature colors of the Earth as its palette and asks us to see our world as a masterpiece of creativity. Fricke uses techniques such as time lapse photography and clever editing to give us a story without a script. It’s the story of life on our big, blue jewel.  Baraka is an ancient Sufi word, which can be translated as “a blessing, or as the breath, or essence of life from which the evolutionary process unfolds.”

Ideally, we would be able to see all the beautiful places featured in this film with our own eyes. Alas, for many of us, we’ll have to be grateful that Fricke’s passion has led him on a global expedition to bring us these spectacular images and challenge our perception of our place in the universe.