At the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), I saw a movie that was so visually stunning it literally took my breath away. As I sat there, totally mesmerized, I had three thoughts: One, I didn’t want the movie to ever end. Two, I was so lucky to be seeing it, because I was sure it would never make it into a mainstream theatre. Three, if I could have, I would have stayed right there, and watched it all over again.
For that matter, if I’d been told, right there and then, that I couldn’t see any of the other movies I had tickets for, I would have gone home more than happy. That’s how sated I was.
Well it’s been a little over a year since that incredible evening and yesterday, in the Toronto Globe & Mail Arts Section, I read that Samsara will be playing in Toronto, beginning next Friday, October 5.
If you’re looking for me, that’s where I’ll be. Maybe more than once, too.
Before I say another word about the film, here’s what Wikipedia says about what its name, Samsara, means: It is an ancient word that, quite literally, means ‘continuous flow’. The repeating cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth within Hinduism, Buddhism, Bon, Jainism, Yoga and Sikhism. According to the view of these Indian religions, our current life is only one of many, stretching back before birth into past existences; and reaching forward beyond death, into future incarnations.
Which is the ‘point of departure’ for the filmmakers.
Written (concept and treatment), directed and shot by Ron Fricke (who also made Chronos and Bakara), Samsara is a documentary that took five years to film! Imagine shooting for five years. They travelled to twenty-five countries, on five continents, shooting sacred grounds, disaster zones, industrial complexes and natural wonders; and it is one of only a handful of films shot on 70mm in the past forty years.
Hate to get all technical on you but in this case, it’s really important. Once shot, the images were transferred through the highest resolution scanning process available, to the new 4K digital projection format. All of which accounts for the unprecedented clarity of those spectacular images. It is mind blowing, I assure you.
Think I’m exaggerating? In the opening scene we’re taken 12,000 feet above sea level to the top of India’s Thicksey Monastery. From our vantage point we watch the resident monks painstakingly create a mandala, an intricate piece of artwork, using millions of coloured grains of sand. We visit them again at the end of the movie, but what we see is … well … I’m not going to tell you what we see because you should see it for yourself.
Samsara has not a single word of dialogue — just a powerful combination of exquisite visuals and equally exquisite music. And, as it is described on the official website, “it illuminates the links between humanity and the rest of nature, showing us how our life cycle mirrors the rhythm of the planet.” Unusually, the film was not edited to the music. The three composers worked on numerous sequences as separate pieces, and then the filmmakers connected them.
As thought-provoking as it is stunning, it is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Of course, this is not a film you ‘see’. You don’t watch it. You ‘experience’ it. You feel it. You are moved by it. It is a meditation. It is profound. It is majestic. It is a masterpiece. It is unforgettable.
You won’t need popcorn. Trust me. You might need kleenex. I did. And I expect I will, again.