Baraka (1992)

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I can’t see how someone couldn’t like this film.

A bold statement certainly, however Baraka has an immense beauty that is surely universal in appeal. It is a documentary that’s without  narrative or narration, it captures a veritable plethora of imagery that reminds us that Earth is indeed a baraka, which is Arabic and Hebrew for ‘blessing’.

Any attempt to derive meaning or identify connection becomes merely incidental as you’re presented with the hypnotic scenery that Ron Fricke and his team have captured; it must have been difficult for them to cut their glorious footage down to 97 minutes. The film traverses verdant jungles, epic mountain ranges, sweeping temple complexes, arid deserts,  imposing cityscapes and haunting landmarks of evil such as Auschwitz and the Cambodian S-21 prison. Its human subjects are of all colours and creeds, with much of the film focusing on those who are less fortunate and sometimes utterly destitute. It is a sensational and occasionally disturbing cross-section of the planet’s landscapes, cultures and history.

The stunning wide shots and time lapses are scored with heady ambient music by Michael Stearns. His music is a cacophony of tribal chants, chimes and drums that’s vital in creating Baraka’s truly sensory immersion. My favourite piece is Baraka Theme, its broad, sonorous notes create a vast scope that perfectly accompanies the boundless panoramas.

There are so many moments I could talk about, I could throw effusive adjectives at almost every frame, however I feel mere words can’t do it justice. Baraka is a purely cinematic experience that’s somewhat futile to describe.

However, one memorable sequence I will mention is the factory processing of chicks that’s interspersed with the frenetic pace of Tokyo railway commuters; it is fascinating and ultimately quite unpleasant as the birds’ destiny in battery cages is revealed after having their beaks burnt. The camera offers insights into an array of factories, showcasing their subjects’ perfectly rehearsed skills in computer hardware assembly, textiles and poultry.

It is a film that demands to be shown on good equipment, a film that serves as a benchmark for one’s TV or projector. Apparently, it was the first film to receive an 8K transfer, what an awesome experience that must be, most likely better than real life!

When Baraka sadly finishes, you eventually move your eyes away from the screen for the first time in 97 minutes and realise that you’ve been dead still the whole time as you check your watch, surprised to see that many hours haven’t passed. It is a triumph that the moving image alone can achieve such engrossment.

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Lilya 4-Ever (2002)

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A powerful, sympathetic film about poverty. 

‘Lilya 4-Ever’ is hugely bleak. You shake your head as Lilya (Oksana Akinshina) is manipulated and abused. I read somewhere that this film is ‘torture porn’, nonsense, despite the sleazy, damning impression it leaves on you, it’s a very tastefully made film. It’s unremittingly depressing, but always tasteful.

It’s somewhat one-track in its storytelling; almost everyone is callous, abusive and indifferent about Lilya’s well-being, none more so than her mother, who deserts her, initiating Lilya’s dive into veritable squalor. I can understand how these people are going to be embittered by their tough, filthy neighbourhood, but some of the characters’ cruelty and selfishness border on evil. Her only friend is Volodya (Artyom Bogucharsky), a young admirer of hers who is always thinking in her best interest. The young pair give terrifically natural performances, which help achieve the film’s aura of hyperrealism.

Much like films such as ‘Import/Export’, the camera captures the arresting, achromatic landscapes of Eastern European housing projects.

The total deprivation in this film makes one appreciative of not only family and friends but basic commodities too. Lilya is thrown into aworld of abject poverty, where the living conditions are so desperate that we see her attempting to sell her few, worthless possessions on a street corner. Lilya and Volodya frequently talk about a better life, but they’re both so tragically far away from their fantasies. Inevitably, she discovers that prostitution is the most lucrative way of assuring she has the resources to be able to live and maybe even achieve her dreams.

Throughout the film, I wanted to reach into the screen and cradle the sweet little Oksana Akinshina, attacking anyone who wanted to exploit her for whatever disgusting purpose. The film puts an innocent, sympathetic face on prostitution, an industry that’s unfairly maligned and condemned by society. In fact, the film puts an innocent, sympathetic face on the underclass; its candid hyperrealism gives you a vivid portrait of total and utter destitution, helping you understand and empathise with their lamentable lives.

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