It can be difficult sitting through a film/documentary that doesn’t actually have a narrative or story, and that is definitely the case with Samsara. Spread over 25 countries, over the course of almost 5 years, Samsara looks at different cultures and sites of nature without intervening with them. This leaves you with a film that is entirely made up of imagery and music. Their are no characters, no dialogue and no voiceovers. So I found myself struggling to watch a documentary that is almost 2 hours in length due to it’s incredibly simplistic style.
However, although I found myself struggling to watch, I actually enjoyed watching Samsara. This is because the lack of narrative meant that I was able to think about the film and everything on screen as I watched. I really pondered the basics of the film and ended up with some interesting thoughts about Samsara.
It really is a thought provoking film. In many different contexts as well, the characters, the locations, the contexts, the future, the cinematography, the music, etc. I think that their are many ‘stand out’ scenes. And their is just so much to think about given the fact that the film changes location frequently.
The very reason why I found myself thinking all throughout the film was because their isn’t a proper narrative to it. Their isn’t any dialogue either. Each scene is open the each viewers individual interpretation. And each scene has a good amount of time spent with it before moving onto the next one. I did at times feel slightly ‘bored’ when watching some scenes. Though these were the scenes where it didn’t really interact with people or cultures, but instead observed landscapes. Landscapes are a massive part of culture, but when observing culture, you can see how it changes and how it interacts, whereas landscapes take many years to change without outside interference. It is a lot more interesting to watch individuals and groups interact and react to others.
Their are many different countries that feature in Samsara, however only a select few people ‘represent’ that country. They aren’t really representing their countries, but at the same time, they are being used to showcase the culture and life of those countries. This I can understand, however it is strange and unfair that one country had a lot of it’s time spent on one individual, which is unfair enough already. It’s what the very content of the scene includes that makes it questionable. It starts off relatively normal, until the man in the office starts to cover himself in various different things, which is funny at first, but it soon becomes one of the most memorable moments of the entire film, though perhaps not for the right reason’s as I would imagine that it is also the scene that most viewers would try and forget as it starts to become creepy and uneasy to watch. I can only think of maybe one or two other scenes that are not as ‘normal’ as the rest. One of which is the scene where all of the food is being produced, which obviously comes from the animals that we saw just before. The other is the strip club scene, where lots of girls are dancing bearing few clothes. But nothing of the same scale compared to the office scene.
The music usually fit really well with the scenes and the content, however it was strange hearing it in the scenes that were more focused on environments, buildings and landscapes. Because those are the scenes where you are left to adore what the camera is giving you. And so you can remember the sound more strongly seeing as their isn’t as much to remember on screen. In those scenes the music seemed overdone. It was being used to make the environments seem very ancient and almost religious. But for a modern audience that doesn’t quite work, or at least in my perspective anyway.
As I was saying, the sections which looked at more modern cultures tended to be a lot more exciting than those that looked at landscapes. Their was a lot more to them, because it is the whole lifestyle image. You can state your opinion on it.
Was Samsara what I expected?
- Interaction – I am not surprised really. I didn’t think that it would have had much interaction with it’s subjects. I did think that it would have been an observatory type film.
- Context – I didn’t think that it would look much at past events. If it did then it would be observing how the present has been affected by them.
- ‘Plain’ – I did think that it would have observed lots of places, however I thought that it would have had more of a look at modern culture, the ‘stereotypical’ groups it has created, and technology.
- ‘Locations’ – I thought that it would have been a lot more modern, but instead it looked at a lot of cultures in Africa, Asia and the middle east. I did anticipate this, but I didn’t think that it would have spent quite as long on each location as it did. I didn’t think that as many countries would have been visited as were visited. I thought that it would have had a longer look at places like Japan for instance.
- Issues – I thought that it might have looked at people who have been affected by certain issues, which it did though. It looked at people in poverty, people in jail and ex militants for instance.
Is Samsara a documentary?
Samsara doesn’t really feel like a proper documentary. But at the same time it doesn’t seem like a film either. I think that it does feel more like a documentary between the two, but it is extremely stripped back. It seems like a lot of work was planned out beforehand, but whilst on set it was literally ‘you know what shots we want, go and record’ and that was it. No interaction or anything. So it is very observational.
So is it an observational documentary?
Samsara definitely fits the bill of an observational documentary, but it isn’t just that however. It also includes features of an expository documentary. This is because the film seeks to expose certain places, groups and people that we don’t really know much about. It seems to expose them in positive light though. When I hear the word observational I immediately think negative. But the places, groups and people on screen seem to mesmerise you. As well as observational and expository, Samsara also seems to be poetic as well. While their are no words, the imagery and sound puts everything into perspective. Despite not having any written words (poetry) it still does seem partially subjective. I think that however is linked to the expository features. I think that the filmmakers want the audience to feel the same way about all the places they visited. They want them to feel mesmerised.