The Salt of the Earth (4 stars)

The Salt of the Earth

Wim Wenders co-directs a powerful doc about photographer Sebastião Salgado

When it comes to his documentaries, Wim Wenders has often been drawn to other filmmakers: Yasujirô Ozu in Tokyo-Ga, Nicholas Ray in Lightning Over Water, and a host of directors discussing the future of cinema in Room 666. Nominated for an Oscar this year, his latest non-fiction work focuses on a man more adept with a still camera. The Brazilian-born Sebastião Salgado began taking photos over 40 years ago, shooting incredibly striking images of communities and populations in second and third world countries.

Co-directed by the subject’s son, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, The Salt of the Earth is every bit as immersive as Wenders’ last documentary, Pina, which used 3D to explore the work of dance choreographer Pina Bausch. Here, Wenders shoots Salgado discussing his work whilst projecting his photographs onto a semi-transparent mirror, allowing viewers to consider both the image and the creator; the effect of seeing these monochrome images blown up to fill the screen is unnerving.

Across his four-decade career, Salgado’s projects frequently explore dignity in the face of deprivation: ‘Exodus’, for example, saw him train his lens on those displaced by famine and war, an experience that left Salgado scarred after it culminated in him capturing the horrors of the Rwandan Civil War. It was only a return to his native Brazil, undertaking an eco-project at his family’s drought-stricken farm, that engineered his recovery.

No mere bystander to misery, Salgado’s own globe-trotting existence is just as fascinating as those he photographs. And Wenders exploits the fact he has Salgado's son as co-director, with Juliano explaining how he looked up to his father as this mysterious, often absent figure in his childhood. Despite lacking any nods towards Salgado’s artistic influences, The Salt of the Earth leaves you both traumatised and tantalised; his work can be difficult to take in at times, but there is no doubt you’re left wanting more.

Selected release from Fri 17 Jul

The Salt of the Earth

  • 4 stars
  • 2014
  • France / Brazil / Italy
  • 1h 50min
  • 12
  • Directed by: Juliano Ribeiro Salgado/Wim Wenders
  • UK release: 17 July 2015

This powerful documentary about photographer Sebastião Salgado, who embarked on a project which pays tribute to the planet's beauty, capturing wild fauna and flora and grandiose landscapes, is every bit as immersive as Wenders’ last documentary, Pina. It has been co-directed by the subject’s son, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado…