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Grade: B-Baraka (1992)

Director: Ron Fricke

Stars: Planet Earth

Release Company: Samuel Goldwyn Company

MPAA Rating: NR

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Ron Fricke: Baraka

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Iguazu Falls, Argentina
Iguazu Falls, Argentina Photographic Print
Halaska, Jan
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OFCS

Some keep the Sabbath going to church;
I keep it staying at home,
With a bobolink for a chorister,
And an orchard for a dome.
Had Emily Dickinson been a jet setter, willing to abandon Amherst for the wide reaches of the world and abandon her gift of words for visual imagery, she has the right metaphysical spirit for Baraka—for it provides cinematic meditation. Its basic theme rests on examining humanity's relationship with the Eternal.

Parts of the 96-minute documentary are deliberately prayerful, clearly demonstrating the oneness of mankind in a montage that includes Buddhist monks bowing before an icon, traditional Jews praying fervently before the Western Wall, Muslims commencing prayer en mass, Christians kneeling inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and a Balinese monkey chant.

Opening with widescreen shots of the Himalayas, followed by a meditative monkey pose juxtaposed with a Nepalese woman in similar state, director Ron Fricke signals his intentions of making another film along the lines of Koyannisquatsi, which he photographed and collaborated on in 1983. Much of the look and feel of the two works is similar, especially the sequences that borrow the same time lapse technique that was used abundantly in the earlier film. This time, traffic patterns on Tokyo streets and inside Grand Central Station and cloud patterns over southern Utah skies provide breathtaking sequences that communicate how fleeting life in this world is.

Baraka provides a perspective that is difficult to achieve when confined to daily routines. Filmed over a thirteen-month period in twenty-four countries, Fricke's widescreen 70 cameras capture such spectacular views as Argentina's Iguazu Waterfalls and a solar eclipse to the mundane details of a Japanese factory or sleeping chamber. The vistas are often grand and sweeping, but he also provokes with images from a Polish concentration camp and their now abandoned crematory ovens, scavengers perusing a Calcutta garbage dump, or with a montage of homeless individuals and families bedding down for the evening.

Contributing greatly to the mood is the otherworldly music of Michael Stearns. In one sequence that transports us from volcanic Hawaiian fires to the Gulf War oil fires in Kuwait, Stearns eerily combines Japanese Kodo drums, Scottish bagpipes, and Tibetan water music to great effect. The soundtrack alone will be worth listening to if you're into world music or global meditation, as it invokes various cultures and invokes the same spirit of connectedness that Fricke seeks visually.

Succeeding at communicating this basic spiritual message, Baraka is a film that will appeal greatly to any children of the sixties (and like-minded souls) who believe in the common unity of mankind and how we all seek the same universal source—whether it derives on this plane from the Ganges, Mecca, Jerusalem, the Himalayas, the rain forest, an African jungle, or just off the shores of Big Sur. Is there a basic message to the film? Certainly, but Fricke doesn't bang you over the head with it. With no stars and no dialogue or subtitles, the locations become the characters, allowing the viewer to draw from his own internal sources—and since most people seek the Eternal, they will likely find a glimpse within the broad-based film. If not, try the film again another year—the Baraka experience is essentially a journey of the spirit.
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