The Salt of the Earth (aka The Salt of the Earth: A Journey with Sebastião Salgado) review by Adrijan Arsovski - Cinema Paradiso
An exhaustively profound, transcendental and life-changing experience – The Salt of The Earth is a celluloid homage to Brazilian-born social photographer Sebastião Salgado’s best work, vehemently beautiful at times, yet heart-wrenching and hard to look at, to an extent where a pessimistic worldview of humankind grows as the sincerest depiction of the savage nature of man. It is an excruciating, dark visual poem that becomes a modern work of art.
It’s directed by Wim Wenders and Sebastião Salgado’s son -- Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, who also serves as a narrator, explicating some of his father’s struggles throughout his life as a social photographer. A trained economist, but keen for adventure -- Sebastião quickly dismisses economics and focuses on photography instead, which becomes his lifelong passion and molds his character with the lenses of the camera. When he takes off to capture light against shadows – little did he knows that his work would change lives.
This is a very pessimistic film, with sprinkles of hope scattered here and there – very few and far in-between. One follows Salgado’s travels in the mines in Brazil, rural South America, Rwandan deserts, Bosnian refugee camps, Ethiopian famine camps, burnt Kuwaiti oil fields – it seems his lenses only tell stories of human suffering, death and destruction. The deeper the film goes – the harder it gets for watching – I personally covered the screen during some of the most graphic imagery captured by the Brazilian. It’s a hard experience, but rather a worthwhile one that begs the question: are humans the “most ferocious animals on Earth?”
Of course, Sebastião’s talents find beauty even in the horrors of life: this is a man who’s seen everything humankind has to offer, both good and bad, both selfish and righteous. Not even the messenger is sparred from life, as one finds that his second son is born with a down syndrome. Still, as he grows up, he develops his own communication that his parents and brother recognize – there is still a chance for redemption after all.
On contrary to the pessimistic, visceral nature of the film, Sebastião’s final work to date named ‘Genesis’ is a hopeful one; How is it that nature absent of humans is always beautiful on camera?
This is by all means a meta-biography, with director Wim Wenders going after the ontological aspect of the inception of filming, photographs and photographers. Not always when one films a man, the man films back. It’s not explored in-depth however, and justifiably so: the filming crew matters less than what’s shown in front of the lenses.
The Salt of the Earth is not a movie – it’s a profound experience that stays forever within oneself after witnessing such matters. It also serves as a reminder of the grotesque, paradoxical, mysterious, often times unrighteous side of human life.