4 Teaser trailer - Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner), The Piano Teacher, Yi Yi, Spirited Away
Photo gallery - 36 stills
Behind the scenes footage - Five clips plus a featurette
Interviews - Pan Nalin Interview
Madman Cinema/AV Channel .
R4 . COLOR . 138 mins .
MA15+ . PAL
Pan Nalin directs so powerfully and intentionally with Samsara, giving a totally fulfilling and rewarding cinematic experience, illustrating the poignant potential of film as a true art form. With dialogue in the region's native tongue (Ladakhi), most of the 138 minute running time is free from language barriers and clearly shows the immense power that visual and aural effects can have on your emotions. So much of Nalin's film relies on scene and mood setting, and then leaving a large portion open to your own interpretation, giving all audiences the chance to make it satisfying to themselves with their own lives, rather than being dialogue-driven. In Samsara's case, a picture can say more than 1000 words, and hey in over two hours it can say a lot more than that. Cyril Morin's eloquently emotive score floats through the piece with such energy and presence, really tugging at your heartstrings for most of the film. But there's more on Morin's score later.
Brush away the anger...
The combination of the visual and aural effects gives the audience such a powerful performance, really exacerbating the immense power of cinema. However, this film is definitely not for the average film goer. If you can appreciate long, slowly-paced cinema, as well as read into things rather than directly being told by the film's narrator what is going on, then Samsara is a good option. But if you want something to veg out to, grab some mindless corny comedy leave this one for those who are willing to take on an epic tale and who have the time, energy and spirit to allow themselves to be captured by true filmmaking's awesome potential. Once encapsulated by the beauty and awe of this piece, the two hours plus running time will just slip through and before you know it the backward scrolling credits will come sliding past and you'll be left in your lounge just stunned at the power and meaning that the film placed in front of you.
There's a hint of predictability in place, but that may just be because you don't want to see such an idealistic world come crashing down as they tend to do, or because Nalin's implication is just too darn obvious too early on. One other thing this film has an MA rating for a very good reason. Let's just say that if you're afraid of a bit of sex then leave this one, or cover your eyes. And no, this isn't Hollywood style sex, this is like porno tongue kissing for starters plus a little bit of experimentation on the side that just puts a whole new meaning to a spinning top... anyway...
"How can one prevent a drop of water from ever drying up?"
Rather that giving you a run down on the plot of the film, I'm just going to give you a vague description of the major theme, as a lot of the driving power of this film is from the unknown Where are they going? What are they doing? Who is that? Do you get the picture? But we have Tashi (Ku), a monk who has just been brought back to his monastery after three years of solitary mediation. But after his lengthy trance he has deep sexual discovery and has a chance meeting with the gorgeous Pema (Chung). But Tashi didn't realise that Pema would by the tip of Samsara (the world) and he must discover what is more important: satisfying one thousand desires or conquering just one.
Like a postcard come to life...
Samsara's gorgeous 2.35:1 aspect has been preserved on DVD, with a stunning anamorphically enhanced transfer. The image is incredibly crisp, giving off a razor-sharp appearance, but at times it appears too sharp and has a sort of shimmering effect on the longer static scenes. A lot of the slow panning and gradual shifts in the framing suffers a huge amount of digital noise reduction which at times is horrendously distracting, yet at others only corrupts little parts of the image. Compression-related artefacts are kept to a minimum, and are mainly obvious during the opening sequence on the stark blue sky in the form of some posterisation.
Film grain is not a problem at all, and film artefacts are only briefly noticed as minor lightly coloured dust. Colours are simply fantastic, oozing life and vibrancy, giving the image such an idealistic and surreal look. Shadow detail is clearly defined and gives a real "edge" to the image. Blacks are solid and bold, with no sign of low level noise, and this all ties together to show how solidly build this transfer is.
But a strange production effect can be seen at 41:15, with what appears to be a join of some sort in the master print, by the look of it an unevenly cut frame (seen by a white line at the bottom of the frame) followed by a pin join (a dirty line at the top of the next frame). This is really a blink-and-you'll-miss-it-type thing, and isn't terribly obvious. But still, it's there, isn't it? The English subtitles are clear to read in a yellow typeface, but at times with the length of the spoken words it feels as if we are cut off in mid-sentence. Still, they are simple enough to read, and Madman have given the option this time to turn them on and off, rather than burning them into the image. One slight glitch though, there was a in place rather than a character at one point. It is mildly distracting as it is unusual and just plainly catches you off guard.
A powerful and poised Pema
Two audio tracks have been placed on this disc, with options of Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0, and a single language option of Tibetan/Ladakhi. Dialogue comes from the centre channel clearly, and gives the audience something to listen to, but won't be understandable by most Australian audiences. So the little dialogue that we do get is clear and audible, even if not comprehensible.
Cyril Morin's hauntingly powerful score just leaps out of the soundstage with such purpose and direction, creating a virtual character to propel the film along. Its rich melodies accompanied with its touching harmonies just creates such an emotive character which adds so much depth to the film.
The broadness of both tracks is so evident, giving fantastic use of both a 5.1 and stereo soundstage. The 5.1 mix uses the surround speakers heavily for ambience, and the subwoofer for drilling into the soundstage to provide depth and support to the score and effects. The stereo track provides loads of separation with fantastic left and right discrete effects.
Madman's feature-packed DVD starts with some gently animated 16:9 enhanced menus, which feature some of Morin's score in the background.
The entrance to a new and different world
Up first we have an the Pan Nalin interview which gives a fantastic 15-minute interview with the director and has some great Q&As about the production of the film. Next we have a collection of behind the scenes information, in the form of a series of theme-specific clips, as well as a longer collaboration. So up first we'll look at the themed clips which are all in a full frame aspect with stereo audio, and look like someone's home-movies from on the set. These clips provide some great on-location and on-set footage, but lacks the construction and planning of an actual featurette. The clips are, however, The Little Joker (2:54), The Wedding Preparations (2:42), The Art Department (2:43), Kala the Dog (2:37) and The Costumes (2:46). These offer a bit of a look at particular aspects of the film, rather than some stock-standard interviews with everyone boasting about how much they love one another and how much fun they had yeah right! You know? Anyway, next up is the actual featurette which gives us a 13 minute look at a montage of the film's production, with Pema's Theme graciously floating over the top at times, and at others featuring production audio.
Amnesty International's television commercialWhy Are We Silent? is up next, and gives a 1:01 advert for Australian audience featuring speeches from stars including Richard Gere, Sting, Alanis Morrisette, Harrison Ford, Goldie Hawn and Julia Roberts. And while we're on the topic of adverts, let's look at the soundtrack which gives us four clip options. The first two, Pema's Theme (2:16) and Hala's Theme (4:13), are presented in a full frame aspect and feature production footage of the Sufia Orchestra during their recording sessions. The last two, Pema's Theme and Fire, are two Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks that play over a menu with an image of the soundtrack release, and a different still in the background depending on what track you select. Strangely these two loop over and over and over until you make your selection to either return to a menu, rather than automatically returning like you would have thought. But anyway, it's beautiful music, so listen to it a few times.
The Samsaratheatrical trailer has been thrown on too, looking quite disgusting (it's very soft and dirty), especially compared to the feature, and runs for 2:16, but does tend to give away some large parts of the plot. In true Madman fashion, the Madman Propaganda has been included as well, with trailers for Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner) (1:56), The Piano Teacher (2:26), Yi Yi (1:50) and Spirited Away (2:17). The Press Kit provides textual and graphical information on aspects of the film including the director Pan Nalin (seven pages), Ladakh (three pages), production notes (five pages) and cast biographies for Shawn Ku (one page), Christy Chung (two pages), Neelesha BaVora (one page), Lhakpa Tsering (one page), Jamayang Jinpa (one page), Kelsang Tashi (one page) and Sherab Sangey (one page). A gallery of 36 images can be found as well, displaying designs, maps, sketches, stills and the like.
So check your brain at the door, but rather than leaving it outside, make sure you bring it in with you. Samsara is an enveloping and powerful piece of filmmaking using the visual and aural elements of the medium to their full potential, relying on sight and sound rather than dialogue. Madman's transfer is equally as impressive, giving a fantastic experience with which to watch this stunning piece of cinema. So for a truly spiritual and enlightening cinematic experience, remember to pick up Samsara next time you're at the video store. Keep in mind however, this isn't your average entertainment film, but holds a whole lot more for the audiences willing to enter into this totally surreal Samsara.