It’s very hard to categorize a film like Baraka. Because of its particular characteristics – a complete lack of a verbal component, a non-linear ‘plot’ and a broadened coverage of our planet – it doesn’t fit it with any existing genre. With that being said, I wouldn’t want to have to put a label on this beautiful production. Its simplicity and remarkable ability to convey the idiosyncrasies of our planet have made it a favorite among film enthusiasts since its release in 1992.
In many ways the highly acclaimed Planet Earth series (released last year by the BBC) owes much of its success to Baraka, mainly for the cinematography and time-lapse photography it uses. When Baraka director Ron Fricke (Koyaanisqatsi, Chronos) set out to make this film he had a clear idea of what he was doing. According to the featurette, his goal was to “reconnect with humanity and communicate on a level which, I think, is necessary”. As a result Fricke decided to rely on the power of his imagery alone to connect his audience to the various ‘moments’ throughout the film.
In all, the Baraka production was a massive ordeal; a 13-month shoot that brought him and his team to 24 countries and around the world 3 times. While watching this movie I had to ‘snap’ myself out of it to realize that I had been taken to a completely different continent; the seamless transition between scenes is so entirely non-disruptive that the myriad of themes, people and places featured all blend into one. To director Fricke, Baraka (meaning blessing, by the way) is an emotional adventure about life on our planet, and each of our places here. Its meant to inspire and to make us appreciate what’s “there”.
A few noticeable moments stood out for me during my viewing. The opening scene depicts a snow monkey up to his neck in water; he eyes gently droop lower and lower while snowflakes land around him. Further in the movie we witness a lizard basking in the hot sun. To witness these creatures in absolute bliss is beyond description. It’s surprising to see how easy it was for Fricke to segue different themes into each other; for example, we move from the solitude of religion to the chaotic nature of urban life in Hong Kong, yet that is almost unnoticeable because of the way it is presented to us.
Michael Stearns (composer, musical director) does a fantastic job creating a world soundtrack for Baraka; he combines music from all over the world in fascinating ways and this new sound, coupled with the dreamy imagery of the movie, provides a truly existential experience for the viewer. When we fly over a gigantic volcano to the sound of marching drums it reminded me of the scene in Lord of the Rings when Saruman summons his most powerful Orcs; needless to say, a very powerful moment.
Baraka is a celebration of sorts; it portrays, from different angles, the beauty that lies right beneath us, but that we choose to ignore because we’re so focused on trivial aspects of our lives. The good news is that Fricke is currently shooting the sequel to Baraka entitled Samsara (cyclic existence), and it should be out next year. I highly recommend this movie to anyone who has an interest in different cultures, lifestyles and who has a desire to explore Earth through the eyes of someone else.