It is of course completely redundant to remark that Samsara's strengths lie in its touted images, filmed in both digital and Panavision formats. They employ a creeping, disembodied pan and extensive time lapse to capture everything from lolly-coloured cityscapes to ranks of headless sex dolls to moonlight sifting through the ruined ceiling of a desert house. The visuals are scored quite admirably by Lisa Gerrard, Michael Stearns and Marcello De Francisci, Gerrard mining both East and Western traditions to compose her trademark iterative loops, gonged narcosis and homage gamelan. While I enjoy some of her work there is always an element of warning buried in her contributions; they've graced some execrable bullshit along the way. Never mind. Samsara kicks off well and twenty minutes pass us by in silent appreciation of the confluence between the living and expired.
It doesn't last. Samsara begins its downhill trajectory with a shot of impish (yes, impish) Tibetan monastery children clustering around a mandala, setting the tonal dial to eyeroll pretty much from that moment onwards. It is deeply mediocre instead of breathtaking, even technically and especially creatively. As photographers and Tumblrites we've been brutalized by hypercoloured landscapes and ambient drone for far too long and the gilt has worn right off that shit. Despite the lofty titular concept the narrative is lazy and undistinguished, struggling to connect the drift and oozing out of the oblique, settling into a boring, prolonged meander. The human compositions are particularly uncomfortable, at best banal, reeking of gauche arrangement and grading into the kind of queasy ethnocentric rubbernecking a more sophisticated pilot just would not have indulged in. Basically, I don't think Frike has the kind of eye that can sustain the scrutiny Samsara invites. My partner just made the very good point that the whole thing could have been assembled from stock images, which is absolutely true, and pretty fucking damning. I really don't know anything more about the locations and phenomena depicted than I did before sitting through the thing.
For a piece already burdened in this manner, Samsara backs off from any political contention, resorting instead to pairing tardy reportage (sow crates, industrial food chains) with some staggeringly tasteless clichés (a bad performance art break, and I just don't think geisha should ever cry the tears of a clown) to lament our modern urban impasse. Substituting repetition for revelation requires a far more inspired treatment than the one at work here.
If you're new to floaty visuals and meditative pacing you might possibly enjoy Samsara more than we did. Hey- there are figurative coffins; someone goes to their grave in a giant pistol somewhere in Africa. There's a few shots of the faithful grinding round the kaaba from a really high angle. But if you're asking me, I would've scratched the Samsara as the header and gone with Pedestrian Travelogue. Truth in advertising.
Give it a Sunday afternoon with a big bowl of chips and a curatorial finger on the remote.