‘Salt of the Earth’ review: charismatic subject, glorious images

Sebastião Salgado is considered one of the most important photographers of our time, and in viewing “The Salt of the Earth,” it’s easy to see why. Though-Salgado From the get-go, this documentary presents Salgado’s breathtaking stills in their full cinematic glory, whether it be images of indigenous people, toiling workers, landscapes, animals or innocent bystanders caught up in war and famine. Estimable director Wim Wenders knows a good documentary subject when he sees one, and Salgado turns out to be a charismatic, elegant storyteller — a man who has witnessed some of the most important (and disturbing) chapters of our recent past. Though Salgado doesn’t let us in on his trade secrets, he’s not shy about providing the backstory of the folks in the images, which gives his black-and-white portraits even more power. Add in the pitch-perfect score of Laurent Petitgand, and the effect is both haunting and mesmerizing. Many of the photos, particularly those of famine-stricken Ethiopia and war-ravaged Rwanda, are agonizing. One might question whether the perfectly shot images are exploitative, but Salgado somehow imbues his subjects with a sense of dignity; we see their suffering, but also their humanity. Though Salgado never fails to be expressive through both words and pictures, he has a knack for keeping the viewer at arm’s length. By the end of the film, we still don’t know what really makes him tick. Wenders attempts to build some emotional interest by exploring the relationship between Salgado and his son, Juliano (also the film’s co-director), but that subplot doesn’t pay off. Ultimately, though, this is a tribute to Salgado’s work — and fortunately, that’s more than enough to make this a very good film. David Lewis is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: davidlewis@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @davidlewisSF The Salt of the Earth
SourceDavid Lewis, http://www.sfgate.com/ ,7th April, 2015
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