This is my first non-narrative feature film. It is a joy from beginning to end and a film I simply had to watch twice before reviewing. Ron Fricke's Baraka is exhilirating cinema, simply and purely stated with rich, detailed live action photography, shot in the Todd-AO 70mm format. It is also a film that I would use as a pitch to beg the studios to once again shoot their movies extensively in large-format film.

I don't quite know how to review this movie - so I hope you'll forgive me if I wax lyrical. Since I have no means to critique any plot or characters, all I can really hope to do is the old chestnut of spoilering some of the more astonishing of the images and hope you'll see for yourself. Just read what I write, and imagine it a hundred times more vivid, the colours turned up and that all of this once existed for real - a time-machine capsule of places, captured irrevocably on photosensitive material.

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This is an amazing motion picture filled with astonishing and beautiful sights; there is no frame of it that does not thrum with the pulse of life and vigour of this planet's existence. Shooting in more than 100 locations in 24 countries and detailing "the thread of life" in all its majestic forms, I have never seen such astonishing photography in a movie. Every moment is fascinating to look at, rich in observed detail that requires all our attention.

Baraka needs no dialogue - without a narrative, we take whatever meaning we wish to the images. The soundtrack is richly textured and subtle, mixing primitive percussion with the simplicity of a choir, the hustle and bustle of a thousand indistinct voices. It feels every bit as carefully composed as the visuals and married flawlessly and passionately.

The film demonstrates a fascination for faces that echoes Sergio Leone, filling the foreground with the human figure: in motion (a hundred semi-naked people dancing in semi-random synchronicity); in stillness (an Aborigine stares us down in a lengthy shot - the wise and fierce eyes bore holes in us); dressed up in dazzling fashion or a tribe trundling down their village in single file; a naked man washing himself in a public bath, his skin dressed entirely in exquisite tattoos. Fricke's camera doesn't draw attention to itself and his subjects don't seem to mind, putting itself in an optimum place for every shot and taken with a painstaking perfectionism.

It's not all pleasant to look at. Mountains of run down shantytowns stacked loosely together precariously, massive garbage sifting teams looking for usable goods in India, several massive factories producing cigarettes in blinks of an eye. The movie uses repeated motifs such as of tiny compartments - initially housing businesspeople away from home. This leads eventually into a gigantic supermarket chicken conveyerbelt, where newly hatched chicks ceaselessly drop into chutes and into a machine where human operators sift them into compartmental prisons. This cross-cuts brilliantly and effectively with time-lapse photography of humans dashing back and forth through chute-like subway tunnels, living out their daily prison existence. It reminds us of Chaplin's opening shots of Modern Times, only with much more contemplative power and undiminished with a gag.

There are no trick shots, simply a master photographer guiding us along.

Reviewed on: 18 Nov 2008
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A journey of rediscovery across the world.
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Director: Ron Fricke

Writer: Constantine Nicholas, Genevieve Nicholas

Year: 1992

Runtime: 96 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


BIFF 2009

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