The question I've been getting about Samsara is, "What's it about?" After seeing the film yesterday, the most acute, accurate answer I can come up with goes like this: "It's about us. About how we're the absolute best and the absolute worst. And it's about how beautiful that is." And holy cow is Samsara ever beautiful. Here's a roll call of filming locations: Indonesia, Burma, Mecca, India, the Philippines, Versailles, the Wailing Wall, Tibet, Petra, Namibia, the Himalayas, Epupa Falls, China, Yosemite Valley, Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Turkey. The film isn't necessarily capital A About anything, yet is About everything.
Anyone over thirty living in the downtown core of Guelph is probably familiar with the Buddhist concept of samsara. But for those unfamiliar, samsara describes a cycle of birth and rebirth which can only be escaped through enlightenment; and with birth comes, along with the certainly of taxes, death. Not a word is spoken in the film--the images are left to speak for themselves. If there's any narrative here, it's to be found in the juxtaposition of these locations and events. Whether or not the samsara that is this film leads to enlightenment is kind of up to you. The only thing that's certain is that, while you don't have to go home after the movie, you can't stay in the theater.
Coming of age in Guelph in the '90s, filmmaker Ron Fricke's last film, 1992's Baraka, was the film I associated with the Bookshelf Cinema. It always seemed to be coming soon, or playing, or coming back soon. The poster image of a painted child peering out from behind verdant foliage, maybe as amazed by us as we are of her, is the image that encapsulates the Bookshelf for me. Full disclosure: I am employed gainfully by said business. Still and all, while I was having my mind blown and heart stomped by Mr. Fricke's follow-up, I couldn't help but cogitate just slightly on how lucky I and everyone else in that packed little theater were to have a venue to see the spectacular, troubling results of five years of filming. When something so rare is so available, the easiest thing to do is take it for granted. But I'm serious guys: Samsara, in addition to being a humbling mirror held up to our complicated humanity, is a gentle reminder of how lucky we are to have a place like the Bookshelf in our community that lets us hang out with descriptions of ourselves that are kind of disappearing from our lives lately.