When the Lumiere brothers first began projecting images, audiences must have felt the type of awe and wonder about the world that Baraka inspires today.  Few films can encapsulate life on earth as it is done here.  Filmed at 152 locations in 24 countries, you get the sense that you are observing the world with fresh eyes.  As Roger Ebert states, “if man sends another Voyager to the distant stars and it can carry only one film on board, that film might be Baraka.”

The Players:

  • Director: Ron Fricke
  • Writer: Ron Fricke, Mark Magidson, Genevieve Nicholas, Constantine Nicholas
  • Cast:  None

Notes:

Baraka is unlike any other film.  There is no plot, no story, no characters, no typical storytelling devices, and no voice-over or text on-screen to explain what you are watching or where you are.  There are images of the Great Pyramids and the Ganges River in India, but the film re mostly takes the viewer to unexpected places – this isn’t a tourist’s video of earth.  The emphasis is not on “where,” but on “what’s there.”  At worst, you’ll view unfamiliar cultures and landscapes set to music for about 90 minutes.  This alone will make for a worthwhile experience.  But at best, however, Baraka is as close as a film can get to a providing a profound meditative experience.

It’s a visceral experience, one gorgeously shot on 70mm film.  Director Ron Fricke takes us to remote corners in the world, experiencing storms, sunrises and sunsets in obscure places.  In conjuring this type of experiences, Baraka instantly instills a connection to the world in its viewer.  Whether you are watching African tribes making jewelry, aerial shots of volcanoes, clouds moving across mountain-tops, slums in Asia and Latin America, or various religious rituals, Baraka is effective in reducing an event into its essence, regardless of where it takes place.   There are several interesting concepts that the film plays with.  For example, at various points, we see time-lapse footage of various modern settings; traffic, people moving around in a train station, and workers at a sweat shop producing electronic goods.  Such imagery set to tribal music seems to suggest that while cultures and locations differ, there are many commonalities, an essence, that connects everything we see.

Brief Words for Mr. Ebert:

Considering that this is a distinctive visual experience, it is impossible to convey in words how Fricke’s camera takes it’s viewers through indescribable emotions that only images can provide.  After all, a picture is worth a thousand words, and here we have no less than a hundred images to ponder about.  Mr. Ebert, your reviews capture this film beautifully.  I agree with you that there are still corners of the world that are yet to be tarnished by commercialization, and that Baraka reminds us of this.  I am also in agreement that while time-lapse footage often seems gimmicky, it works effectively here as a visual demonstration of how fleeting life is.  As you go on to say, “decisions that seem momentous on our time scale are flickering instants in the life of the planet, too small to be observed except on the minute scale of human life.”  Adding to the spiritual nature of this experience, you also remind us that “against this fragility, man has raised the bulwark of religion”.  Viewing the various religious ceremonies in Baraka juxtaposed with views of nature, we’re left to ponder the types of questions that have surely led many to go as far as seeking celestial explanations.

Good, Bad or Great Movie:  GOOD

Do you like Baraka?  Do you consider this film to be Good, Bad, or does it stand up as Great?

Next week’s review:  Cache

Years ago, ScreenCrave contributor Jaime Lopez privately began tackling Roger Ebert’s “Greatest Films” list, an ever-expanding monolith of celluloid currently comprised of approximately 354 films.  Lopez has set himself to put these remaining films’ “Greatness” to the test–reviewing both the movies themselves and Ebert’s response.  By taking on Ron Fricke’s Bakara this week, he now has 288 under his belt and less than 100 films left to go.