By Mónica Delgado
After Pina, Wim Wenders returns to documentary, in an homage key, to make a portrait of the famous Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado, together with one of the sons of the protagonist, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado. Bottom-line: A Filmmaker who films his father in his trips and a director focused in an editing and conceptual process of documentary. In The Salt of the Earth, both filmmakers ascribe to the documentary formula in a conventional style, which is shown even in a chronological way, but differs from other in the subtly way which they perceive that evolution of the artist in his conception of the humane and nature, through his expositions and trips from the eighties onward.
The film opens in an exemplary way with a series of photographic descriptions that seem out of this time, with a voice over of Sebastiao Salgado himsef, of five thousand semi naked workers and exploited in a Brazilian gold mine, which puts in contest the intention of the artists’ work, overall marked by the usual use of black and white (as many of the scene showed do too) and the interest for topics such as work, war, or violence. Is not only about showing the aesthetic liking of Salgado but to dig deep in the engine of human nature as such, in its rawness, diversity and death that embody his photos, a fact that doesn’t avoid to fall in the so called «porn misery», which here happens in two levels: by the work of Salgado itself when he stops in scenes of Ethiopia, Rwanda or Tanzania, on political massacres or death by hunger, but also in the emphatic reproduction that Wenders and Ribeiro do of this work.
For Sebastiao Salgado, who has been a war, travel, or fire photographer in the most critic moments of African, European and Latin American history, there’s an essential force that motivates him, and that has to do with the «spectacularity» of that which separates the real from fiction, which he extracts with unsettling fixation. And that strange search is perceived in each shown photo, in the angles, in the composition, in the details and colors. Wenders and Ribeiro know for sure that their work is to show the fascination with which the photographer realizes his work, in how he’s been oriented by different topics towards his work, and they do that with affinity and admiration. One cannot question the fact that the photographer maintains a colonial look towards the «otherness», since there is a marked distance and «exoticing» look, when he visits some Brazilian or Papua New Guinea tribes, or when he registers African babies dead by hunger. In some part Salgado even notices that «you can think that death and violence come from strange people, but also there’s terror and massacres in Europe, and that’s why I have an interest to register the conflict between Serbia and Bosnia» (is not a literal quote, but the idea is understood), forgetting that one of the greatest terrors that the human being has taken part of came from the two European world wars, and that maybe that third world poverty, which is exploited in each click or zoom, becomes blurred by this perverse order of history and the ruling class of power, cemented since that years and post cold war.
However, the documentary, despite being a sort of tribute to the photographs of this characters, decays towards the end, to a finish with an environmentalist claim more fitted to a non gubernatorial organization, outside the context of the majority of the footage, though it draws in a somewhat abrupt way the new orientation of Salgado’s photos, who from registering wars, death, killed, turns to photograph animals, totally disenchanted by human beings and their miseries.
Un Certain Regard
Direction: Wim Wenders y Juliano Ribeiro Salgado
Brazil / France