SXSW Film review: ‘Salt of the Earth’ visually stunning

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A scene of gold-mining in Brazil, from "The Salt of the Earth."
A scene of gold-mining in Brazil, from "The Salt of the Earth."

A scene of gold-mining in Brazil, from “The Salt of the Earth.”

“The Salt of the Earth” is many things: beautiful, horrifying, moving, stunning. But at its heart, it’s deeply humanistic.

The documentary explores the life’s work of Brazilian/French photographer Sebastiao Salgado, who has witnessed some of the most disheartening events of our time: droughts, starvation, war, mass exodus.

As the movie makes clear, his life’s journey, which has led to much acclaim, has also led him to have deeply existential feelings about humanity. He has seen the horrors of war and starvation, from Eastern Europe to Africa. And he has documented the scenes with visually arresting photography that is sometimes entrancing and at other times horrifying.

Directors Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado (who is the photographer’s son) tell the story of one of the world’s great photographers but also pursue multiple other story lines: the relationship of a son to his distant father, who has spent much of his time away from home; the relationship of the Salgado family, who live in France, to their Brazilian patriarch; the desecration of Earth’s landscape; the seemingly blind eye that we turn to suffering around the world.

But amid all this gloom, the directors do something unexpected. They start following Sebastiao Salgado as he embarks on what might be his last photographic project: an exploration of land still untouched and unmarred. We see him in the Amazonia, where tribes have lived with little contact with the outside world for centuries. We see the Antarctica. And we finally see beauty.

“The Salt of the Earth” is a remarkable achievement, and it truly deserves to be seen on the big screen. It’s one of the best documentaries at SXSW, and you should make it a viewing priority, if it’s at all possible.

It screens again at 3:45 p.m. Wednesday at the Violet Crown.

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