JDIFF 2012 Out of the Past: Baraka,1992

Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2012

Out of the Past: Baraka

Saturday, 25th February, 1:00pm, Cineworld

Although not blatant and certainly not hamstrung by an imposed agenda beyond that of the viewer’s own reactions, Ron Fricke’s enduring documentary still tells a story of sorts. Its narrative arc lies in the development of our planet and it charts a world which in the early stages is untouched by man before then detailing a wide array of different cultures and their impact before finally turning skyward to loftier, less earthbound concerns.

While abstract and obtuse in its execution the film is quite approachable as the images offered are often beautiful tableaux. It is crisply shot with a vibrancy that benefits the diverse tones and textures of the journey. A lack of framing device or voiceover lets us bring our own sensibilities to the piece and I do believe it’s this lack of structure that accounts for Baraka’s legacy. A voiceover or a framing device would have hemmed in the film and forced the hand of its filmmakers to arrive at some trite point, the whole planet and civilisation boiled down into some weary soundbite. One can comment on and condemn human atrocities such as concentration camps without lecturing, and in a world where talking head documentaries manipulate an audience so condescendingly it is refreshing to see such broad strokes used to subtle effect.

It is obvious that Fricke honed his skills as a cinematographer on a similar style of films the Qatsi trilogy, directed by Godfrey Reggio, and this is his chance to personally tackle large issues in a way only cinema can. The term visual poetry has become overused but some of the beats here definitely flow with a rhythm one scene involving a colossal bell is a compelling moment. Photography comes close to this pursuit of capturing the world. However a picture is only the tease of an event but seeing a communal tribal chant for example in its full glory needs motion. It needs sound.

When focused on people and their rituals the film casts its spell admirably but as breathtaking as landscapes can be the novelty of seeing a volcano can wear off surprisingly quickly and long shots of that nature when overdone has always rankled me as something almost predictably art house. Baraka does fall into that trap but rarely as the cumulative effect of the visuals does satisfy on both an emotional and aesthetic level. With its sequel having just been released in Samsara it is time to revisit this and while it can only hint at this planet’s infancy and the future it would be interesting to see how far the filmmaker Ron Fricke has himself matured in the interim and to contrast his views on nature and technology in a time when the latter is more prevalent than ever.

Emmet O’Brien
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