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By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 27, 1993


Ron Fricke
Not rated

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Watching "Baraka," a nonverbal symphony of exquisite images, you experience a feeling of intense empowerment. As one spectacular image follows another, nearly every one lucid and sharp and magnificent, you feel as if you can go anywhere and see anything.

Shot in 24 countries on six continents over a stretch of 14 months, this completely wordless, plotless film by director Ron Fricke and producer Mark Magidson fulfills the "magic carpet" promise of the movies to a previously unimagined degree. Floating high in the air, you peer over the edge of a gurgling volcano in Hawaii, then sweep down to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, or Ryoan-Ji temple in Kyoto, or Lake Natron in Tanzania, or the fire plains of Kuwait, their oil fires burning like the eternal flames of the dead.

"Baraka" is a Sufi word that has its equivalent in every language around the world: It means essence or breath or, most commonly, blessing. And that's what this stunning, unimaginably beautiful film is -- a blessing. Through Fricke's custom-built, computerized camera, we are exposed to nearly every form of religious expression, from the chanting of the monks of the Dip Tse Chok Ling monastery to the mesmerizing tribal celebrations of the Masai of Kenya or the Cayapo of Brazil.

We are shown the many and various forms of labor and transportation, the glory of both man's creations and God's. Temples, cathedrals, skyscrapers and mountaintops, all forms of human privation and all manifestations of the sublime. Yet for all this globe-hopping, the filmmakers aren't merely out to impress us with the labels on their suitcases. "Baraka" isn't a calendar-pretty travelogue, running through a program of the planet's greatest hits. The creators of "Baraka" have ambitious motives -- they are interested not in character or narrative or even instruction. They choose to focus on the emotions we feel in response to the images, to the specific people, places and fantastic things that are there in front of us. They've assembled their images as a kind of "guided meditation" -- as they have called it -- created for the purpose of examining "man's relationship to the eternal."

Definitely, "Baraka" is from the Joseph Campbell school of mystical-mythical pseudo-anthropological neo-Jungian New Age filmmaking. And yet very few artists of any kind possess the determination that this team shows to get it not just right but perfect. As a result, nothing in this epic visual poem is less than extraordinary. The film's curious, gliding camera (Fricke serves as his own cinematographer), Michael Stearns's eclectic, ethnic score, the slow, silken rhythms of the editing, the choice of subject and location, all these things contribute to the movie's spell.

The film allows us to see the actual interconnectedness of all things in the world, and to appreciate its patterns and symmetries and its innate sense of balance and proportion. Fricke has said that "Baraka" was intended to be "a journey of rediscovery that plunges into nature, into history, into the human spirit and finally into the realm of the infinite." And miraculously, his bold intentions were realized. See this movie and see it in a theater; this one can't wait for video.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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