Samsara: Death and Rebirth in Cambodia (1990)

2012 National Film Registry

Courtesy of Ellen Bruno

International relief worker Ellen Bruno’s master’s thesis at Stanford University, “Samsara,” documents the struggle of the Cambodian people to rebuild a shattered society in the aftermath of Pol Pot’s killing fields. “Samsara” is a Sanskrit term that literally means “circle” or “wheel,” and is commonly translated as “cycle of existence.” Bruno fleshes out this concept by using ancient Buddhist teachings and folklore to provide a context for Cambodia’s struggle. Described as poetic, heartbreaking and evocative, the film brings a humanistic perspective to the political chaos of Southeast Asia with a deliberate, reflective and sometimes dreamlike pace as it intertwines the mundane realities of daily life with the spiritual beliefs of the Khmer people.

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