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Posted on 12/15/08 05:44 PM
[center]What you see depends on what you're looking for.
An ethnic documentary Ron Fricke's "Baraka" eschews traditional narrative, speaking instead in the language of the sounds and images of the many cultures it observes. Using various techniques including some very evocative time-lapse tracking shots, the film's cinematography gently traverses the planet in a river of images. The humble embrace of it's subject matter is a trancendance from the subjectivity of most films. Even those which strive to naturalism "Baraka" surpasses with it's simple non objectivity. It is concerned only with observance and is satisfied in doing so, visual, aural, textural, color, tone, and rhythm. Observing both the organisms of nature and that of human society it's scenery gracefully flows from one region to another without discretion or prejudice.
In the encompassing silence of it's eye "Baraka" reminded me, particularily in it's frenetic passages, of "Man with the Movie Camera." Indeed it's aspirations are similar to the silent classic though more enobled by the expanse of it's vision and diversity of cultures. It probably has more in common with Godfrey Reggio's "Koyaanisqatsi" (on which Fricke worked as cinematographer) though unburdened by the imperative themes which accompanied Reggio's "Qatsi" Trilogy.
One of the outstanding features of this film, however, beyond it's contemplative meditations, and one of the greatest triumphs of it's vision is the vivid clarity with which it is apprehended. Captured using a 70mm camera and fully remastered on Blu-Ray, the stunning clarity of it's images is simply astonishing and the majestic beauty of it's landscapes are breathtaking both for their natural splendor and technical brilliance. The visually resplendent fidelity of it's picture is remarkable considering it was filmed in 1994, and to spite the advantage of the large format, denies modern film transfers any excuse of not being perfect.
I have never seen a clearer picture or more detailed imagery. As the images transitioned around the globe I found myself in rapt attention simply at the realism on screen. It was a novel experience to enjoy a film simply because it's pretty to look at but at times it was almost as if you were gazing straight into the places themselves and that in itself is pretty powerful, even more so when it's a face your staring into.
The two-fold splendor of a film like this is a rare treat for a cinephile or videophile but particularly so for someone who's both.
There where moments when I was simply astonished at the beauty of the images, the intensity of color, the clarity of water drops, or the fact that I could see the pores on someones face.
Though "Baraka" is decidedly objective Fricke's artistic influence is none the less present in the shooting style and choice of music (including a passage accompanied by Dead Can Dance's "Host of Seraphim") but his most significant impression may simply be the ambiguity of the composition and the oneness the sequences inhabit. It's not really necessary to attempt to extrapolate themes however. "Baraka" is more like a piece of music, fluent, beautiful, haunting, elusive. We can append particular meaning to it's various movements but in some ways doing so belittles the granduer of it's entirity.
It owes much of it's effect to the quality of the transfer and I wonder if it would be as impressive in standard definition, though such considerations are irrelivant since it is not. Still it's important to note that this is indeed a movie that is worth watching for the same reason the places it features are worth visiting. The simple, yet inspirational experience of witnessing something beautiful has been translated through this medium closer to the real thing then it ever has before.
The immaculate fidelity of the footage is a testament to what the Blu-Ray format is capable of. The film is a masterpiece but it is also the only one I would buy simply based on how good it looks. If you own a Blu-Ray player, you owe it to yourself to see "Baraka."