Entrancing from the start, ‘Samsara’ says much without a single spoken word


By Justin Baker, Contributor


Aspiring writers are frequently reminded that it is better to show than tell. All too often, movie writers feel inclined to narrate to a point where words undermine what’s happening on the screen. The film “Samsara,” directed by Derek Fricke, takes the opposite approach, and let pictures alone say much more than a thousand words.

Samsara is a Sanskrit word best translated to “ever turning wheel of life.” It refers to the cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth, all key stages in the idea of reincarnation. Reincarnation is the belief that each person is living one life of an eternal sequence of lives, and is a pervasive concept in most Indochinese religions like Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism.  The 2011 film, written by Fricke and Mark Magidson, offers a peek into these Eastern cultures and so much more.

“Samsara” is a PG-13 non-narrative documentary that takes its audience on a journey across 25 countries spanning five continents. It is meant to expand on the theme of the developers’ earlier films, Baraka (1992) and Chronos (1985). 

Shot in stunning high-definition on 70mm film, the lens captures a world that is vibrant and intricate. The camera reveals various aspects of ancient cultural traditions that remain in Asia, Europe and Africa. The film then contrasts these with the practices of modern society.  By juxtaposing these persisting cultures of antiquity with the industrious and fast-paced lifestyles of what we would call more civilized society, a theme emerges.

From the very beginning, the director aims to hypnotize. We are greeted by the faces of three young Indonesian dancers with eyes held wide open, a stylistic technique used to hold the audience captive within their stare. Dressed in elaborate golden garb, the girls dance smoothly and methodically with their hands, in an outward expression that concerns itself least with body motion and most with eye contact.

We are invited to see what they see, ourselves, which is what the director wants us to see. In doing so, we are forced to reflect upon us as people and our place in the increasingly globalized world. Fricke and Magidson do seem to have an agenda with the release of this film, but we the audience are at least given the liberty to discover for ourselves the message between the frames.

The film is currently showing at Film Streams. For more information on showtimes and ticket prices visit filmstreams.org.