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The line from Koyaanisqatsi to Samsara couldn’t be any more direct: Along with being the cinematographer of Godfrey Reggio’s seminal 1982 film, Ron Fricke was also credited as co-editor and co-writer. Reggio went on to do two other Qatsi films, but Fricke went his own way, most notably with 1992’s Baraka, which like Koyaanisqatsi is a mind-tripping compilation of gorgeous photographed images from around the world, set to a propulsive musical score.

Fricke returns to the big screen with Samsara, which was filmed in 25 countries over a period of five years using state-of-the-art equipment (some of which Fricke built himself). There is no dialogue, no words spoken, no onscreen titles. For 100 minutes, you are overwhelmed by imagery, some still that invite you to take in their details, some in rapid or slow motion for you to appreciate their scope. Whether or not any of it engages your mind, not a frame fails to command your eyes.

Fricke is pointedly vague about any particular meanings in his films. The website says that Samsara “explores the wonders of our world from the mundane to the miraculous, looking into the unfathomable reaches of man’s spirituality and the human experience…a nonverbal, guided meditation.” The title is a Sanskrit word for, essentially, the circle of life, and the film begins and ends with similar images. There are depictions of spiritual pursuits, and of gross materialism (the film’s most obvious sections draw links among factory production, overfed consumers, and commercialized sex). My favorite sequences depicted the enormous size and activities of several unnamed cities: If Fricke means these to be dehumanizing, I admired them for efficiency.

If I had to name a theme for the film as I saw it (twice), I’d say that it depicts man’s need to find or impose order and structure on existence. Maybe I’m wrong. But I’ve seen it twice and I would happily sit through it again, as long as I could do so in a theater.

Watch the trailer for Samsara

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