Planet Earth encapsulated as a movie.
Just like its name has meaning with the words “wandering” and “world”, Samsara isn’t really a film but rather an experience. It’s a non-narrative documentary which doesn’t have any dialogue nor a conventional story but this is a movie that captures real life at its core. It focuses on presenting us various aspects that make up the world and society around us, akin to a documentary-like feel of BBC’s Planet Earth series but without the narration. Instead, you just get simple, beautiful and raw images. And it’s fucking amazing.
Filmed over 5 years and on a 70mm format, Samsara’s greatest achievement is the technical presentation of showing some of the best cinematography of our world. It’s why I also love watching the Planet Earth series because everything looks so goddamn incredible and when you watch Samsara, the experience is heightened if you can watch on a Blu-Ray format. But what makes it as equally interesting, is the focus on showing a range of aspects of society and not just pretty pictures of animals. From viewing mankind’s advancements of processing computer parts to handling chicken food production lines and then the wonderful nature shots of the night sky upon a sandy desert. A large part of our world is encapsulated and it’s gorgeous candy for the eyes. There’s a particular shot from the film that depicts a distant wide shot of the Muslim pilgrimage around the wailing wall in Mecca that’s just amazing to see.
What’s also great to see from Samsara, is the numerous close up shots of peoples faces from all over the world. These will just play out with them staring at you and not saying a word, allowing you to infer the stories behind those eyes and the life that they live. This is also thanks to the specific choice to present them in such a way, which adds to the clever nature of the film. Because though there isn’t necessarily a conventional story, in a way it is portraying to you a glimpse at the stories of many. And by doing it simply through raw images with no dialogue, you base your opinions and gauge your understanding of what you simply see. This film is like the most beautiful presentation on the phrase “judging a book by its cover” but just by focusing on the visuals in the eyes of the people, you can infer a tremendous amount about them.
I also loved that certain sequences were placed next to each other that would give additional commentary to how we work in society. Juxtaposing a beautiful shot of nature against a man-made manufacturing process is done intentionally to make me think about the world but not in a way that’s forced down my throat by a narrator. I see the images presented and I can judge for myself whether I think this is right or wrong, what is real beauty and what is not and questions so forth. It’s nice that it all was edited and delivered in such a subtle way that didn’t overly push forward an agenda but still had a coherent enough structure.
My one major gripe with the film is with the runtime. At an hour and forty-two minutes long that has no dialogue and no conventional story, the pretty pictures can get somewhat boring after awhile. I would have loved if it was shorter but regardless, I see why they chose to show so much, especially since it took 5 years worth of production to get this footage. I’d imagine the editing process to scale down the number of raw files to the final edition would have taken an incredible amount of time so I am appreciative of the fact they want to show it off. But nevertheless, it’s a slow burn of a film throughout, even if it doesn’t look spectacular.
Ultimately I’d highly recommend this to people who are a fan of planet earth type series and don’t mind the fact that it has no narration or conventional structure. Yes, that’s a bit of a niche market but even if you don’t think those aspects of the film would be for you, I’d still recommend seeing it because it is such the experience. It’s a great and fascinating insight into how the world not only looks from various perspectives but also how it currently works in society. A technical masterpiece with some of the best cinematography and a film I wouldn’t mind watching again just to simply gaze at the beautiful wonders it presents. It might even remind you of how amazing our world can be sometimes. It did for me. See it.