Jeff's Reviews

Thoughts on every movie I've ever seen.

The Salt of the Earth (2014)

Directed by Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, Wim Wenders

Starring Sebastião Salgado, Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, Hugo Barbier

Author

I’m surprised I’ve never heard of Sebastião. He’s seen a lot of things, and his life has a naturally beautiful arc. His images are moving and artistically impressive. Sometimes one is fooled into thinking that a photojournalist’s work is good simply because of the dramatic subject matter, but this is not the case with Sebastião. He’s a truly great photographer, a master of tonal range and composition. He might even be the Ansel Adams of portraiture. As a photographer, I wish we could have learned a little bit more about his methods.

What Wenders reveals to us is quite rare – a photographer who is very photogenic, likable, relaxed in front of the camera, and a good storyteller. Nothing is over-embellished or exaggerated, it doesn’t need to be. He has seen the human condition at its worst. What he says is genuine and eloquent and poignant. He remarked that everyone should see his photos to understand how horrible humanity is. Perhaps we should.

And the film is beautifully made. Some of the contemplative black and white moments, especially early on in the film, rivaled even Sebastião’s in beauty. The pacing of Sebastião’s photos was perfect, and the score and sparing use of carefully timed effects wonderfully dramatized each image. The method they used to show Sebastião looking at the photographs and at the camera at the same time, allowing us to make eye contact as he reminisces, was genius. As he scans the photos and remembers, we make a special connection with him. Was that a two-way mirror?

Wenders chose a good subject and honored him with the utmost respect. Wenders and the younger Salgado really put their heart and soul into it. You can tell.

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