Review: ‘Baraka’

Words can't do justice to the visual masterpiece "Baraka," a smashingly edited, superbly scored, wild world tour that speaks volumes about the planet without uttering a word.

Words can’t do justice to the visual masterpiece “Baraka,” a smashingly edited, superbly scored, wild world tour that speaks volumes about the planet without uttering a word.

Impossible concept will be a marketing nightmare: “Baraka” needs a distrib as focused as lenser-helmer Ron Fricke and as ruthless as its discerning editors to capitalize on inevitable word of mouth. (A smash hit at fest world preem in Montreal, incredible buzz led to an additional screening.)

Journey through urban jungles and civilized savagery in 24 countries is a “breath of life,” or baraka (an ancient Middle Eastern Sufi word that translates as a blessing or as the breath/essence of life).

The non-fiction pic is a 96-minute Lear jet flight that takes timely breathers as filmmakers observe a passionate and destructive love/hate affair between woman and earth. If the name “Postcards From the Edge” hadn’t already been used, this would be the film that lived up to the title.

Real-life snippets filmed in far-flung places (like Tanzania, Kuwait, Iran and Nepal) are seamlessly woven, from intriguing “monkey chant” ceremonies in Bali to confining “sleep capsules” in Tokyo.

Most are images you have never seen before. Pic stuns viewer with planet’s vast diversity. Time-lapse subway sequence (edited to music score) is an ideal example of filmmakers’ imaginative manipulation, as is a camera that occasionally lingers on curious or hard-boiled faces.

Crackerjack editing also slips in tough images (such as fluffy baby chicks in a poultry factory) without moralizing.

World beat soundtrack is an obvious marketing tool. Stunning images speak for themselves. “Baraka” is an educational trip.

Baraka

Production

A Magidson Films production. Produced by Mark Magidson. Directed and shot by Ron Fricke. Concept and scenario by Fricke, Magidson, Bob Green.

Crew

Editor, Fricke, Magidson, David E. Aubrey; original music and music direction by Michael Stearns; music by Stearns, Dead Can Dance, Somei Satoh, the Harmonic Choir, Anugama & Sebastiano, Kohachiro Miyata, L. Subramaniam, Monks of the Dip Tse Ling Monastery, Ciro Hurtado, Brother. Reviewed at the Montreal World Film Festival, Aug. 30, 1992. Running time: 96 min.
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