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The circle of life – ★★★★

Samsara is a philosophy within Hinduism, Buddhism and Yoga to name but a few religions, pertaining to the belief that the life we are leading is only one of many. Literally meaning “continuous flow”, Ron Fickle’s new film shows this in astounding ways and is the most beautiful film you’ll see all year.

Filmed over 25 countries for the best part of five years and on 70mm film, it’s a labour of love from the people behind Baraka (1992) and Chronos (1985). The director Ron Fickle and producer Mark Magidson have teamed up once again with dazzling imagery and perfectly scored music providing a visual feast. With not a word spoken for the entirety of the film we are left to simply bask in the marvels of the world while also reflecting on what we’ve done to it.

The concept isn’t that original, while I’m not familiar with Baraka or Chronos I was reminded of Koyaanisqatsi, for which Fickle was the cinematographer. Coming from a Native American term meaning life out of balance, Koyaanisqatsi was the first in a trilogy by director Godfrey Reggio. The other two films being 1998’s Powaqqatsi and 2002’s Naqoyqatsi, stay behind after class for pronunciation lessons. Concerned with man’s relationship with nature and technology the film paved the way for sight and sound documentaries unreliant on dialogue or narration.

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Samsara is more concerned on the cyclical aspect of life and uses time lapse technology to capture the passing of time. While showing the majesty of the world around us, it also highlights the mechanisation of many aspects of our life. A particular shocking and hard scene to watch is where we are given a tour of a chicken factory in which they use a sort of combine-harvester to hoover up a crop of live chickens. The same is true for the treatment of pigs. While none of this should come as a surprise it is always something we like to put to the back of our mind as we settle in to our chicken dinner.

The notion of A.I. is briefly explored with some shots of incredibly life-like robots and they touch on the rather creepy development of real life sex dolls in Japan. If there is a failing of the piece it can feel at times over simplified and obvious. It’s clear the message Fickle is trying to get across, but as it is constantly explored again and again in slightly different scenarios it can seem at times repetitive.

The piece clocks in at about an hour forty but when the credits rolled I felt like I’d been in the cinema for about ten minutes which is always a good sign. This film certainly won’t be to most people’s tastes but if you are in the mood for something different and a trip around the world from the comfort of your cinema seat then sit back, relax and give yourself over to Samsara. You could always catch it in your next life, but why wait?

USA  /  Directed By: Ron Fickle  /  Documentary   /  Release: 24 August 2012 (US), 31 August 2012 (UK/Ireland)