Thursday, 7 April 2011

Baraka (Ron Fricke, 1992) Blu Ray Mini-Review

Nature comes thrillingly alive in the beautiful Baraka (1992)

Baraka transports the viewer to a world which is beautiful, wondrous, multicultural and transcendental. It is our world, but as you've never seen it before. One scene sees the image of clouds rolling over a valley sped up to give it the impression of water... the blue of the sky ripples as white cloud rushes past, and the Earth takes on a different form. Later in the film the image is reversed. Birds rest on clear blue water which reflects the sky above. It looks as if we're flying upside down, approaching another universe - the sky ripples, like water would if a droplet disrupted its balance. But there are also scenes of great tragedy in Baraka - sites of genocide littered with the skulls of innocent lives lost. Fricke employs Eisenstein's Intellectual Montage theory to compare the hustle and bustle of Japan with the grouping and tagging of young chicks. To the pumping sounds of a tribal, choir-led score the compacted chicks are juxtaposed with the images of businessmen crammed together on a subway. Baraka presents not hundreds of lives but one connected life. This is one world, and it's marvelous...

Baraka is one of the greatest sensory experiences the cinema has ever produced, its unique collage of images taking in miracles from all over the globe. Experimental in form, there is no dialogue, but a spiritual score of almost divine power. The images are stunning, and I dare say bolder than any which have come before or after. Watching the tribal ceremonies of long lost cultures - their song and dance, their clothes and makeup - we are suddenly made aware of the diversity of this planet. Baraka made me thankful for who I am and the place I have in this world. I could be rolling tobacco at a factory in India or Zimbabwe. I could be working in Jardim Gramacho, or living deep in the jungles of Papa New Guinea. These are not bad lives; quite the opposite. Theirs are cultures I admire and respect, cultures that fascinate me. But theirs is not the life I would wish to live. Watching it in my living room however, I have the urge to see the world and visit these places. Baraka is a film which inspired and moved me deeply. It's a technically perfect film, but also an emotional and informative one. I feel like a better person for having gone on Fricke's journey. I can't think of another film I can say that about. It's a profound experience.

The Disc
I simply can't imagine another film looking this good on Blu Ray. The eclipse, rising dawn, bubbling volcanoes, vast deserts, tribal communities, bustling utopias and lush valleys are complemented by a pixel-perfect remastering which illuminates the beauties of our world. It's an experience unlike any other, and the music (a huge part of its power) has to be listened to through a 5.1 Surround Sound system. If you have a good home cinema system then Baraka is an essential purchase, and a life-affirming film.

This review is also part of the Cinema Strange series...

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