The second Werner Herzog documentary to reach American theaters in as many weeks, Wheel of Time focuses its deferential gaze on the Kalachakra ordaining ritual of Tibetan Buddhist monks in Bodh Gaya, India, and the creation of the sand mandala that represents the imaginary palace contemplated during meditation. Though Herzog typically rushes into uncharted territories of the world with the same bravado that wrought masterpieces like Aguirre, Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo, he recognizes the gravity of his material here, and as such conducts a considerably lighter trek. Which is not to say Wheel of Time isn’t a Herzog excavation at heart. During an interview with the Dalai Lama, in which His Holiness explains the sacred mandala that exists in everyone and likens himself and Herzog to the “center of the universe,” the German director coolly remarks that his wife won’t be too happy to know that. This sly-dog aside is typical of Herzog but it has a way of taking the viewer outside the intense world of the film; some, though, may argue it’s a welcome reprieve, not unlike one of Herzog’s fingers, which inches into frame at one point to wipe off a crumb of food that clings to his camera after a ritual in which monks throw rations at their fellow worshippers. Like his deep-throated, characteristically hyperbolic narration, these interruptions are minor though. From the sight of countless zealots doing prostrations past Mount Kailash to a young monk releasing a group of sparrows from the cup of his hands, Herzog’s camera is not only dedicated to capturing the profound bliss of the Buddhist faith, but it very much embodies this rapture as it canvases its many landscapes with Zen-like veneration. Herzog won’t live forever, but if Wheel of Time‘s final breathtaking shot is any indication, expect some reincarnated version of the German auteur to resume the down-and-dirty and euphoric cinematic anthropologies he’s been laying out for more than 40 years now.
- Werner Herzog Filmproduktion
- 80 min
- Werner Herzog
- His Holiness The XIV Dalai Lama
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