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  Wheel of Time Oh, Buddha
Year: 2003
Director: Werner Herzog
Stars: Dalai Lama, Werner Herzog, various
Genre: DocumentaryBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: In 2002 filmmaker Werner Herzog traveled to Bodh Gaya in India, which is considered the most holy place in Buddhism, to make a record of the Kalachakra ceremony held there every two or three years. In attendance would be the Dalai Lama, the religious leader, and it was hoped he would lead the proceedings, although this time he was too ill to carry out his crucial role. Nevertheless, Herzog garnered plenty of footage in his attempts, perhaps not to fully understand, but at least carry out a further insight into the practices of thousands upon thousands of eager Buddhists.

In fact, the impression you receive is not of getting to the heart of the movement, but of how alien a lot of this can be to Western eyes - or it is until the final half hour where Herzog takes his crew to a town in Austria to prove that this kind of thing occurs in the West as well. With this director's works, the viewer will always be on the lookout for a striking image or a sequence which will take one aback in its pushing for a kind of profundity, and there is certainly that here.

Still, there is also the sense of the novelty, where for example Herzog will enthusaistically film pilgrims travelling over land by prostrating themselves, standing up, walking a pace and prostrating themselves once more, over and over again for miles and miles over unfriendly terrain. Does he see a kindred spirit in these pilgrims who refuse to do things the easy way to get the results, in this case spiritual, that they crave? One such seeker after truth is interviewed, but you come away feeling that Herzog was more enraptured by the way he needed two translators to understand what he was saying as he hailed from such a remote area.

The repetition inherent in the rites appears to rub off on the documentary as it continues to return to the same images. Herzog is particularly taken with the Mandala and its construction with couloured grains of sand, even more for its meticulous creation than for what it represents, but he also seems equally preoccupied with the catering for those multitudes and the amount of food and tea they put away. Indeed, it's only when blessed dumplings and gifts are being handed out that the crowd allow their chaos to shine through and turn into a frenzied mob in their endeavours to get even a few crumbs of the sacred food which is supposed to lend them luck and health.

However, by the end the sprituality has affected Herzog as he meditates on the place of the individual in the universe after the Dalai Lama tells him that anyone can be at its centre. Among the evocative landscapes and curious sights such as performing monkeys or masses of prostrations there is a restful mood that settles over you as you watch these people and their devotion to improving their lives - and their following lives - through ritual. There are a few interviews, but the most interesting one is with a political prisoner locked up for shouting "Free Tibet!" twice in the space of thirty-seven years: years he spent in jail. He claps eyes on the Dalai Lama for the first time and the camera is there to capture it; this man thinks the wait has been worthwhile and Herzog ponders over the power of belief to carry one through. Wheel of Time might not be as enlightening as a lifetime of Buddhism, but it does show its value.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Werner Herzog  (1942 - )

Eccentric German writer/director known equally for his brilliant visionary style and tortuous filming techniques. After several years struggling financially to launch himself as a filmmaker, Herzog began his career with the wartime drama Lebenszeichen and surreal comedy Even Dwarfs Started Small. But it was the stunning 1972 jungle adventure Aguirre, Wrath of God that brought him international acclaim and began his tempestuous working relationship with Klaus Kinski. The 1975 period fable Heart of Glass featured an almost entirely hypnotised cast, while other Herzog classics from this era include Stroszek, the gothic horror Nosferatu the Vampyre and the spectacular, notoriously expensive epic Fitzcarraldo.

Herzog's subsequent work is perhaps less well known but he has continued to direct both provocative feature films (Cobra Verde, Invincible, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans) and intriguing documentaries, most notably My Best Fiend, detailing his love/hate relationship with the late Kinski and 2005's highly acclaimed Grizzly Man. Herzog has also been the subject of two Les Blank documentaries: Burden of Dreams (about the making of Fitzcarraldo) and the hilarious Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe (in which he does just that).

 
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