Baraka is a non-narrative visual poem addressing, according to director Ron Fricke, “humanity’s relationship with the eternal.” The title means “breath of life” or “a blessing” and the film unfolds into a tapestry of global images shot over 13 months in 24 countries, comparable to, but far more ambitious than Koyaanisqatsi (1983) which Fricke also wrote, edited and photographed. Like Bernardo Bertolucci’s similarly meditative Little Buddha (1993), Baraka was designed as a powerful audio-visual experience, one of a handful of films made in the 1990s to revive the immensely cinematic 70mm process.
Filled with staggeringly beautiful vistas which are striking, rich in detail and immaculately composed, the screen is complemented by an immersive Dolby Digital soundtrack fusing natural sounds with a haunting world music score. (At one point composer Michael Stearns combines Japan’s Kodo Drummers, a Scottish bagpipe ensemble and a Tibetan water music orchestra.) Baraka encourages the audience to think or be entranced, and depending on mood and circumstance it can enthral or bore. With its epic, trans-human scale, vast formal grandeur, depersonalised abstraction, startling juxtapositions and avowed ambition to be the ultimate non-verbal film, Fricke has created a visionary experience akin to 2001: A Space Odyssey.