A Criminally Unknown Gem…

Baraka (PG) Dir: Ron Fricke (1992)

I’d like to kick off the reviews, if I may, with this little known beauty of a film.

Baraka takes its title from an ancient Middle Eastern word meaning “a blessing” or “breath of life”. Ron Fricke’s picture is not so much a film, more a series of stunningly realised sequences exploring man’s relationship with nature, both harmonious and catastrophic, set to a wonderfully affecting soundtrack, encompassing influences from every inch of our planet.

Shot over 13 months, across 24 countries, Baraka begins with gorgeous photography of a mountain range somewhere in the East. (Where and when are never as important as who and what). It then shifts to incredible scenes of indiginous tribes-people chanting various mantras and performing quasi-religious ritualistic dances.

Another shift sees us in a big Oriental city (probably Tokyo, but again we can’t be sure). Here, extraordinary images of ducklings and chickens in a slaughterhouse are juxtaposed with dazzling time-lapse videos capturing the hustle and bustle of hotel entrances, train stations and road crossings. One particularly stand-out sequence (in a film populated by numerous jaw-dropping vignettes) sees a busy city street fade from day to night, with the shine of car lights and neon signs producing an other-worldly glow.

Baraka transcends barriers of all kind; class, gender, ethnicity, even time and space. Whoever you are, wherever you are, there is a place for you. Ron Fricke’s sumptuous photography not only captures great scenes of beauty, but also grave scenes of tragedy and death. Human skulls are seen in ancient burial grounds, trees are cut down, face-painted artists contort their faces and the Xian Terracotta Army is captured sweepingly, yet intimately.

Part nature documentary, part travel guide, part existential human exploration, Baraka is unlike anything you’ve seen or heard before. Every sequence is perfectly accompanied by music uniquely fit for that setting. Tribal drums and pipes play over an Avatar-esque sitting chant, while eerie strings twang over the dizzying aerial shot of an aircraft yard with more jumbo jets than you can shake a stick at.

Baraka is a dazzling treat for the senses — a series of remarkably captured sequences, perfectly accompanied by a frequently haunting soundtrack — a beautiful celebration of life on Earth.

By Mark Elms

© 2011

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