Photo by Sebastião Salgado
Courtesy of © Sebastião Salgado/Amazonas Images/Sony Pictures Classics
THE SALT OF THE EARTH
2014, 109 minutes
Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving images of violence and human suffering, and for nudity
Review by Joshua Handler
The Salt of the Earth received an Academy-qualifying run in NYC/LA in December 2014, hence why I included it on my "Best of 2014" list. It went on to be Oscar-nominated for Best Documentary Feature.
A documentary about photography is very few people's idea of a riveting filmgoing experience, but in the hands of Wenders and the younger Salgado, it is. No one would ever make a film like The Salt of the Earth if they weren't completely passionate about their subject. Wenders and Salgado certainly have the passion, but they don't let their passion and admiration for the elder Salgado to overshadow the film. Wenders and Juliano Salgado create a complex portrait of a complex man. Wenders and Juliano Salgado approach their exploration of Sebastião Salgado from different perspectives. Wenders approaches Sebastião Salgado from the perspective of a curious admirer wanting to learn more. Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, however, approaches Sebastião Salgado from the perspective of a son wanting to delve deep into the life of his mysterious father. As Wenders and Salgado go further into their exploration of Sebastião Salgado, the film becomes richer and more astoundingly beautiful, since their perspectives complement one another.
Viewing The Salt of the Earth is a bewitching experience, and one of the most deeply emotional I've had in ages. Each time I've seen the film (I've now seen it twice, and plan to see it again promptly upon release), the beauty of the images and the stirring sound design have caused me to weep. The images hit something deep inside that connect to our humanity. To see one of Salgado's photographs is to have a window into another world, to have an entire story told in a single image, but to view one of his photographs with his narration is like listening to a master storyteller tell his most compelling, heartbreaking stories and watching them come to life. And, Salgado's reflections and observations about his photographs are revelations.
Also, of special note is Laurent Petitgrand's haunting score. Petitgrand's score adds another layer of pathos to Salgado's images that further brings them to vivid life.
Overall, The Salt of the Earth is a nearly unparalleled achievement in documentary filmmaking. Many documentaries are eye-opening, yet emotionless experiences, presenting the facts without ever engaging the audience on another level, but The Salt of the Earth is both eye-opening and moving. Salt raises the bar for documentary filmmaking and is an essential piece of cinema.