Known for his nuanced romantic dramas such as The Hairdresser’s Husband and The Perfume of Yvonne, French director Patrice Leconte strikes out on a decidedly different path with Dogora, a wordless celebration of the vibrancy he discovered while vacationing in Cambodia. Many of the images Leconte captures show people traveling from one place to another — squeezed together on motorbikes, packed in a truck bed, or pedaling together in a mass of bicycles. It’s a film that’s almost constantly studying motion, and Leconte gives us some truly stunning images.
Dogora is even less a “documentary” than the obviously comparable Powaqqatsi and Koyaanisqatsi, both of which possess a thesis that Dogora does not have — it’s simply content to soak up imagery. Where the films are similar is in their combination of image and sound — Godfrey Reggio’s films featuring the famous Philip Glass scores and Leconte’s featuring music by Etienne Perruchon, whom Leconte had discovered several months before his initial trip to Cambodia.
Perruchon’s music, infused with bright horns and children’s choirs, fits beautifully alongside Leconte’s images, although one occasionally wishes for the music to recede to make more room for the environment's natural sounds, which are only briefly heard, if at all.
Dogora is clearly a personal project, which prevents it from seeming like mere observation of a foreign culture that’s mired in poverty. One feels like Leconte is connecting visually with his subjects in a way that transcends a clinical outsider’s perspective. It’s this personal nature that will make the film seem both inaccessible and pointless to some — it meanders from image to image, seemingly following Leconte’s eye and whatever captured it, but for those in the correct frame of mind, the film is plenty engaging visually and aurally.
The Blu-ray Disc
Dogora is presented in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio that’s listed on the back cover as 2.35:1, but is clearly closer to 1.78:1, as the image completely fills my widescreen TV. Severin Films’ DVD and Blu-ray release marks the first time this 2004 film has been released on home video in North America.
The visual presentation is never quite stunning as many of the images seem to lack fine detail, especially in low-light shots, but there are plenty of instances where picture sharpness and clarity is impressive, and colorful landscape shots are particularly well-represented. Leconte often shoots faces in close-up, and facial detail is consistently high throughout the film.
The audio is presented in a 5.1 DTS-HD track that is almost exclusively Perruchon’s score. It’s a robust mix that offers exceptional clarity, and that seems vital in a film that is at least as much aurally impacting as it is visually.
The only extra of note on the disc is a 40-minute interview with Leconte. The interview is actually the third part of a three-part series, with the first and second segments included on the Severin DVDs of The Hairdresser’s Husband and The Perfume of Yvonne, respectively. The interview is present in HD, as is the theatrical trailer for the film.
The Bottom Line
Dogora isn’t a challenging film, but it does require viewers to allow image and sound to wash over them without the aid of any real structure. Its presentation on Blu-ray reproduces those images and sounds quite beautifully.