Baraka on DVD
Photographed in 70mm in 24 countries, Baraka is a striking meditation on Planet Earth. The ancient Sufi word "baraka," which means the breath or life from which the evolutionary process unfolds, and may be translated as "blessing," has forms in many languages. In the tradition of Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi, which director Ron Fricke also edited, Baraka uses ethereal or jubilant music to string together images from various cultures and places around the globe. A Buddhist monk sits in a room full of candles, animal blood is splashed on an altar, bare-chested men sway to the rhythm of a bizarre tribal ritual—all this imagery is organic, fluid, striking, and mostly unscripted. However, I found myself looking for scenes in which the filmmakers revealed the beauty to be found in the hustle and bustle of non-rural and non-religious life. Instead, time-lapse photography is used in the few slices of urban life, denoting only chaos in contrast to the poetic grace of the rest of the film. Alas, perhaps this is the point.
Baraka itself is gorgeous in its anamorphic presentation. The cinematography is constantly changing, which creates a grab-bag for the eye. My favorite section was the very beginning, when a curious monkey takes a hot-spring sauna in an icy tundra. The cameraman closes in on this human-looking creature as he relaxes, then begins to doze and wake like a drowsy truck driver on a midnight run.
The sound has been digitally remastered from the 1992 analog original. Still, the 5.1-channel soundtrack is soothing, with nothing but ambient music in all channels, save during some of the more active scenes of African and Indian tribal rites, when chanting and rhythmic body music fill the soundstage. You'll definitely want to check out the behind-the-scenes featurette, because this National Geographic special is not narrated, and one of the many emotions that Baraka evokes is curiosity about our big home.