The Salt of the Earth

English translation by Rita Bainton

Wim Wenders e Sebastiao SelgadoSince Wenders’ earliest films, the theme of the journey is king throughout the form and content of his work. In Salt of the Earth it is a precise route, effective and engaging on the trail of a great character as the photographer Sebastiao Salgado.

It follows the bloody footsteps of war in the last thirty years, revisited in its horrors - a lesson not learned by humanity- shown with rawness, and sensitivity from the lens of the Brazilian reporter. It 'also a journey through the most rugged and most enchanting places on Earth, and he reminds us of the main character of the "science fiction" Until the End of the World (1991).

Wim Wenders e Sebastiao SelgadoIn the story, after the unbearable horrors and hell witnessed and documented in Rwanda’s civil war, Salgado hits a critical turning point, which will give birth to the Genesis Project: the return to the beauty of our planet in its inaccessible places, similar to a pristine Earth of millions of years ago. In order to capture this return to nature, the Brazilian photographer used his camera, and traded in a degree in Economics and a brilliant career in a major British company, to give voice to those who were considered mere workforce, small pawn statistics, sacrificial victims of an unfair and indecent economic development. Salgado became popular with its black and white dramatic pictures.

Sebastiao SelgadoSome of his photos are the icons of social historical moments of the twentieth century. In fact, the film opens with a famous and breathtaking image: the anthill of Sierra Pelada, the gold-rush, a balance of slavery and madness, marked by the shadows like a painting of the Renaissance. How does Wenders (he himself an excellent photographer – worth mentioning the series dedicated to the Southern United States) deals with this character with his amazing life and extraordinary works? His answer in many interviews is the same: he takes a step back, he withdraws without overdoing it; he honors the style of his character by showing not telling. Case in point, at the beginning of the film, there is a fantastic long shot of him in black and white, framed by fascinating nature.

Sebastiao SelgadoThis method, however, does not prevent the unfolding issues that are typical of Wender’ style. Parallel to the adventures of the trip is the underlining theme of father/son relationship, the eternal flight and contradictory conflict between parent and child. In a paradoxical twist, Salgado’s son is also the co-author of the film, and a great cinematographer in his own right: Juliano Ribero Salgado. The son tries to recover the relationship with his father by working with him, following him in one of those dangerous expeditions that have characterized his career. But let’s not forget we are in a Wenders film: father and son have a hard time empathizing with each other; while in Salgado’s mind, memories resurface of a disabled child, beautiful at birth, that he left behind in the care of his wife, Leila Warnick, the only woman in his life, crucial to the emotions and evolution in his art.

The Salt of the Earth is a film that aims at the heart and mind. Maybe the distributors did not expect that would generate such strong interest. Word of mouth is alive and well. It is an essential vision that brings us close to the art of cinema.

3 dicembre 2014

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