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