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Baraka Review

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Ron Fricke and his camera crew crosses 24 countries to chart the planet's many ecosystems in a wordless visual odyssey.

★★★★★

Baraka, one is given to understand, is a Sufi word which may be translated as "a blessing, or essence of life". Yes, the 70mm hippy head trip lives on in this latest non-verbal, environmentally aware documentary.

Descended from Koyaanisqatsi and Chronos (the former photographed by and the latter also directed by Fricke), this is a kaleidoscope of stunning cinematography employing slow-motion and time-lapse techniques, its non-narrative global whirl accompanied by a Self-important Score.

When simply recording and admiring the beauty and mystery of the natural world - snow-capped peaks, a solar eclipse - it is lovely. The problem is that Fricke is also striving to make a Statement about man in relation to the world, and the story he would tell is lost in a confusion of images and ideas both undeveloped and overplayed.

Man's search for God - we're guessing here - is represented by shots of holy men, mystics and monks, whose prayer rituals are worked up like a Busby Berkeley number, while scenes of various jolly tribal peoples dancing are interspersed with motifs of folly and evil: the burning oil fields of Kuwait, the hungry, homeless and (predominately Third World) squalor.

What this all means is impossible to say. Perhaps one needs to see it on a psychedelic substance to discern a pattern or coherent structure. Clean and sober, it is by turns pretty, horrible, pictureseque and wildly, self-importantly pretentious. And of all the beings who flit through this spectacle, the one to whom one relates most ardently is the first face we see: a small ape with an unnervingly human expression, staring balefully into the camera as if to say, "Oh no, not another eco-documentary crew."

Less than magical, Fricke's mystical tour quickly gets bogged down in its own self-proclaimed grandeur. An eco-stew.

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