"Baraka" is a stunning visual essay on the relationship between Man and the Earth, set to haunting music from around the world. Without the use of dialogue and merely relying on a series of hypnotic images, this film has a quiet eloquence about it, following in the footsteps of its predecessors, "Koyaanisquatsi" and "Powaqqatsi".
The film opens up on a snow-covered mountaintop in Japan, the natural habitat of the snow monkeys. This opening scene is perhaps the most powerful image in the whole film and a prelude to the stirring visceral delights that the viewer can look forward to. In the middle of a hot spring, a lone snow monkey sits. In an intriguing example of anthropomorphism, we watch the snow monkey bide its time in the hot spring, with a facial expression of deep meditation on its face. We do not know what the snow monkey is thinking, if it is thinking at all, but its facial expression betrays a deep reflective process. At one point, it closes its eyes, shutting its senses off from its surroundings, as though it were dissociating itself from some painful memory. It is an unnerving experience that is difficult to describe-- one must view this scene to fully appreciate the power of this cinematic construct.
From here, the camera seamlessly glides across continents, capturing moments in both the natural world and the world of Man. The first stop is a survey of worship, with scenes from a Buddhist temple in China, to the wailing wall in Jerusalem, and the whirling Dervishes spinning elegantly in a rapturous trance. Industrialization is highlighted by two juxtapositional sequences. In the first, a Shinto priest shuffles slowly down a busy Tokyo street, ringing a bell and uttering a prayer with each step, as the cosmopolitan inhabitants race by him. The second is almost comedic: the camera intercuts between chicks being tumbled through a conveyer belt system (being sorted out, tagged, and having their beaks clipped) and busy commuters being shuffled through the turnstiles of a Tokyo subway station and being packed into trains. For poverty, the viewer is transported to New Delhi where the poorer denizens pick through a garbage landfill, to the graffiti-scarred sidewalks of New York, and finally to the somber expressions of young prostitutes standing outside a Bangkok brothel. For war, scenes from the burning oil fields of Kuwait, the 'showers' at Auschwitz, and the killing fields of Cambodia are seamlessly integrated.
All filmmaking techniques are used to great effect in "Baraka", from the judicious use of slow-motion to time-lapse photography that captures the beauty in nature that occurs too slowly to be appreciated by the human eye. The subtle camera movements used are elegant, adding to the mesmerizing quality of the images presented. Fortunately, the videocassette has been recorded in the widescreen format, preserving the scope of the panoramic vistas.
"Baraka" has no story and no dialogue, but somehow, it manages to deliver a sensual experience that you will find unforgettable-- a celebration of the triumph and challenges of mankind.