Baraka is a non-narrative visual poem addressing, according to director Ron Fricke, “humanity’s relationship with the eternal.” The title means “breath of life” or “a blessing” and the film unfolds into a tapestry of global images shot over 13 months in 24 countries, comparable to, but far more ambitious than Koyaanisqatsi (1983) which Fricke also wrote, edited and photographed. Like Bernardo Bertolucci’s similarly meditative Little Buddha (1993), Baraka was designed as a powerful audio-visual experience, one of a handful of films made in the 1990s to revive the immensely cinematic 70mm process. Filled with staggeringly beautiful vistas which are striking, rich in detail and immaculately composed, the screen is complemented by an immersive Dolby Digital soundtrack fusing natural sounds with a haunting world music score. (At one point composer Michael Stearns combines Japan’s Kodo Drummers, a Scottish bagpipe ensemble and a Tibetan water music orchestra.) Baraka encourages the audience to think or be entranced, and depending on mood and circumstance it can enthral or bore. With its epic, trans-human scale, vast formal grandeur, depersonalised abstraction, startling juxtapositions and avowed ambition to be the ultimate non-verbal film, Fricke has created a visionary experience akin to 2001: A Space Odyssey. On the DVD: Baraka is accurately transferred at the original 70mm theatrical ratio of 2.2:1, not as the packaging says as 2.35:1. The picture quality is superlative, with virtually no flaws and razor-sharp images. The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound is equally outstanding. The extras are presented at 4:3 with letterboxed clips, and being video based offer lower image quality. These special features play for approximately 25 minutes and, apart from the original theatrical trailer, are divided into three sections containing significant overlaps between the material. The “making of” documentary and the collection of to-camera comments from members of the production team are both interesting, but the behind the scenes location filming footage adds little substance. –Gary S Dalkin
17 September 2001
Second Sight Films Ltd.