Baraka

I love today's movie - Baraka, directed by Ron Fricke in 1992. Literally everything about it is astounding. I can't remember the first time I saw it. A friend of mine sent me links to it online when I was a freshman in college, and I remember going to a screening of it at DePaul the same year. When I got a Blu-ray player for Christmas, Baraka was one of the first movies that I bought for myself.

And how could I not? It's perfect for Blu-ray - huge 65mm film scanned into 8k -  the best looking movie I've seen in ages. It's pure cinema - no voice over, no dialogue, no words - just image. It makes perfect sense, and is beautiful and profound to watch. I never feel tired of the images in it. Some images are sad, some are stunning, but all of them are so human. It's an incredible film.


Like I said before, there is no real plot to the movie. It has no speech. It has music, but no narration or dialogue, nor subtitles. It's a series of different images, from scenic ruins to snow monkeys, from traffic in Tokyo to the Maasai. There is a connection between all of the images, of course, a thread running through the whole film about the human spirit. How we all share the same fate, the same emotions, and many of the same activities. It's just full of such astonishing images, and I love that it shows so many different emotions. It really shows life so well. As Ebert says, "If man sends another Voyager to the distant stars and it can carry only one film on board, that film might be "Baraka." (Great Movies III, 48). Anyone could understand it, and anyone could watch it and get an incredible picture of what life on Earth is like.

I am first and foremost always in a state of awe when I see this movie, because the images in it are so wonderful. There are truly beautiful shots, many of them time-lapse. They are amazing because the camera pans slowly during the time lapse, as people speed around in the frame. I never feel like I spend any time watching the movie, because it just goes so quickly. I love that we can see the entire world, basically, in this movie - the scared parts and the profane parts. It's amazing. And it's perfect with no speech. I don't know if there is another movie quite like it. Even "Planet Earth" needed a narrator.  I think it's wonderful that this movie conveys such powerful emotions in such a universal way.

After the movie, I watched some of the special features on the Blu-ray I had been hoarding. The film crew consisted of about 5 people, often using a special time-lapse camera that their cinematographer/director built himself. Can you even imagine building a camera? I certainly can't. The time-lapse camera could be programmed with a computer, so they could set up the correct shutter and also the incredible slow panning and it would all be automated. Two people would babysit the rig, two people would crash, and they would switch in about 8 hours and do it all over again. They shot for 14 months, traveling to many locations based on the phase of the moon. The making-of documentary on the disc is full of a lot of wonderful stories about filming. About the excitement of travel, about how many shots didn't go as planned, but many unexpected and wonderful shots happened with no planning. It's worth watching if you rent the movie - it really made it seem even more amazing. I couldn't believe how small and dedicated the crew was. I couldn't believe the talent and vision of everyone who worked on the film, either.

There is no real way to write about this movie. Ebert lingers over the images, and describes them, something I'm struggling to do. You really need to just see this movie for yourself. It sounds sort of unappealing when I describe it, but it is a movie anyone could understand (even the aliens that Ebert wonders about). A film you could watch with people whose language you do not speak and you could understand and experience something together, if not be inspired to try to connect. It's stunning to watch (Ebert goes so far to say that owning Baraka on Blu-ray is reason enough to get a player, and I agree), and incredible to experience. There is something so engrossing about feeling like you are can just see the whole world, to see all facets of what it's like to live here. I really hope that you watch this film if you've never seen it before. It's amazing. I think I've run out of words to describe how awesome it is!

Have any thoughts on Baraka? Share them in the comments!

Links:
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Baraka
Buy it on Amazon
Trailer (this was made before the restoration, so it really does not do the film any justice, but at least you get some idea about it)

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