Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 5, No. 2, 2006
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Mark Goldfarb
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Bernard Dubé
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Robert Rotondo
Dan Stefik
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
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Serge Gamache
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The Agronomist
Maria Full of Grace
Man Without a Past
In This World
Buffalo Boy
Shake Hands with the Devil
Born into Brothels
The Edukators


reviewed by

Hana Benveniste lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.



Love conquers all, at least in Hollywood. How many movies have we seen where men and women turn themselves inside out, make fools of themselves and pine over the object of their affections only to be rewarded by living happily ever after? The movie Samsara offers a refreshing and decidedly Buddhist take on the joys and perils of love.

First screened in 2001, Samsara is the debut feature film by director Pan Nalin, who co-wrote the screenplay with Tim Baker. Nalin was born in India and grew up with a deep connection to spirituality. After studying fine art he discovered that the best film school was life itself. His directorial credits include the feature length documentary Ayurveda: Art of Being (2001).

Samsara is set against the vast sky and sweeping mountain valleys of Ladokh, India. Here we meet Tashi, played by Shawn Ku, a young monk who is gently brought back to his monastery after spending three years, three months, three weeks, and three days in deep meditation.

Soon after opening his eyes to the world around him, Tashi’s passions are stirred. His sexual desire is further fueled when he meets a beautiful village woman, Pema, played by Christy Chung.

Tashi begins to question his spiritual path.

A visit to a wise monk in a cave maps out both the pleasure and pain of desire. The monk, with a mischievous smile and twinkling eyes, unfolds pictures of couples in Tantric poses that become corpses when held to the light of the fire. The last scroll he unravels reads, “All experiences are opportunities to practice the Way.” Even the Buddha experienced the world before he renounced it.

Tashi sheds his robes by the same river where the monks bathed him a short while before, and dons the clothing of laymen. He begins his new life in search of Pema.

Samsara is a compelling narrative with stunning cinematography. The landscape seems to cradle the characters and allows their lives to unfold before our eyes, and coupled with Pema and Tashi’s story, is a wonderful metaphor, reminding us of the pleasure of intimacy and the wider view of the world around us.

Who has not gotten lost in the overwhelming demands of every day life which can seem so important? Yet in the larger world, we are but a drop in the ocean.

Images and repeating themes are skillfully used throughout the film and bring to mind how the world is a reflection of our inner lives and can often mirror our experiences. While the film’s ideas are clearly based on Buddhist ideology, the central dilemmas are universal: the quest for love and the desire to be free of suffering. All we need to do is turn on the radio to hear a never ending playlist of songs about broken hearts. However, Samsara does not offer a direct solution but instead explores the question. I like this more open ended view, especially in light of the 1,000 Cinderella stories or the other extreme of Fatal Attraction type scenarios.

To the director’s credit, the story is not obscured with meandering dialogue (especially since I saw the subtitled version); but rather the spoken words do what good dialogue should do: give us insight into the character’s nature and support the story.

Samsara is a movie that will appeal to those who love exotic locations, those with a philosophical or spiritual inclination, or anyone who cares to tackle the question Tashi’s beloved teacher Apo asks: “What is more important: satisfying one thousand desires or conquering just one?” Indeed, this is a question our leaders might ask the next time they decide to invade another country.

Will we ever be satisfied?

The DVD is available in the foreign section of most video stores.

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