Review: The Salt of the Earth


DIR: Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado • WRI: Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, David Rosier • PRO: David Rosier • DOP: Hugo Barbier, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado • ED: Maxine Gödecke, Rob Myers • MUS: Laurent Petitgand • CAST: Sebastião Salgado, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, Wim Wenders, Hugo Barbier, Regis Muller


Nominated for best documentary feature at this year’s Oscars, Wim Wenders showcases the life and work of Brazilian social photographer Sebastião Salgado, who for over forty years captured some of the most profound images of human suffering, in the powerfully absorbing The Salt of the Earth. Directed alongside Salgado’s son Juliano, Wenders delineates an intimate portrayal of the photojournalist’s emotive and vividly stark work, which bore witness to some of history’s most contentious chapters of the late twentieth century. Originally studying to become an economist but abandoning such career aspirations to dedicate his life to recording a shattering vision of humanity, Salgado’s images expose the trauma, deprivation and misery of human existence, as it responds to the socio-political, cultural and environmental factors that have shaped humanity’s trajectory to this day.


Featuring contributions from Wenders, Salgado and Juliano and infusing the narrative with some of the most iconic images of human persecution and endurance, The Salt of the Earth casts a photographic lens on an historic turbulent timeline of catastrophe from the far-flung corners of the planet, giving indirect access to the plight of the human condition in some of the most familiar places in socio-political history, for all the wrong reasons. Interweaving stunning yet saturnine black and white stills with footage of Salgado on location, the film is a panegyric to the destruction and ugliness of humanity’s capabilities while simultaneously paying tribute to the enigmatic beauty of a wondrous planet with veneration. Poignantly austere images depicting historic explosions of conflict and genocide in Ethiopia, Sudan, Rwanda and the Balkans gaze out amongst lost and forgotten souls of the past; tribes, communities and peoples of the cavernous regions of South America, India and Indonesia, encapsulating a philosophy of stoicism and serenity that stands in opposition to the harrowing plight of their volatile global neighbours.


Growing cynical and despondent with earth’s continual narrative of suffering, thereby changing his perspective from deep empathy and compassion to helplessness and despair over the course of his enduring career, Salgado has collated his vast photographic collection of human suffering into books of reflections, each subject matter divided into themes based on his diverse photographic experiences. From the displacement of entire marginalized populations due to wars, famine and economic shifts in Vietnam, Palestine, Iraq and Africa in “Exodus” to illustrations of steel labourers in the Soviet Union, fishermen in Galicia and farmers in Rwanda in “Workers”, Salgado has been a spectator to innumerous landscapes of hell, while concurrently inverting human destruction as a resolute environmental visionary in his own native homeland. Toying with abandoning his life’s work, Salgado’s passion for uncovering humanity’s shackles reignited his passion, shifting his focus from distress to determination by paying homage to the planet in his collection entitled “Genesis”. Reflecting on the evolution of the planet and the relation of humans to species in ecosystems, the collection iterates the narrative of life in a more positive way, illustrating that the destruction of nature he has persistently witnessed, can be reversed.


Disheartening and uncomfortable at times, The Salt of the Earth forces its audience to confront images of a brutal, sometimes forgotten past, deconstructing any notion of an idealized, romantic history. The sheer magnetic beauty of Salgado’s images, which capture human suffering so authentically and sit in sharp opposition to the actualities Salgado is portraying, may at times, be perceived to be objectifying human wretchedness by fulfilling a life’s ambition through the degradation of others. Yet Wenders vehemently dispels such notions of objectification, the evidence of deep, psychological suffering experienced by both Salgado and humanity itself, palpably emanating from his deeply effective portraits.


The Salt of the Earth is a moving and fascinating, if not a somewhat challenging documentary, which reflects upon interminable human suffering but which is evenly neutralised by paying homage to the beauty of a forgotten past, from a different time and place. While it may not be always easy to engage with the incessant onslaught of human distress, it is a vital and hopeful piece of work, which aims to consider a global history that would rather be forgotten – but by peering into the heart of darkness and pondering upon the destruction of humanity at its own hands, Wenders philosophically questions how and why such darkness persistently keeps reoccurring.

Dee O’Donoghue


12A (See IFCO for details)
110 minutes

The Salt of the Earth is released 17th July 2015











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One Reply to “Review: The Salt of the Earth”

  1. Just wanted to ask. Will this film (The Salt of the Earth) be showing in Galway in 2015 0r 2016 ? Tanks Stephan.

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