The Salt of the Earth Directed by Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.
The work of Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado is astonishing, and Oscar-nominated documentary The Salt of the Earth doesn’t need to do much more than present Salgado’s most striking and vibrant images onscreen. To both its credit and detriment, that’s exactly what it does, allowing Salgado to provide a sort of commentary track on the highlights from his decades of work. Director Wim Wenders has years of experience as an inventive filmmaker, but working with Salgado’s son Juliano Ribeiro Salgado as co-director, he opts for a more straightforward approach here.
Salgado traveled around the world numerous times, documenting rural poverty, brutal labor conditions and the plight of refugees, and some of his photographs depict the lowest points of humanity. The Salt of the Earth’s sketchy biographical elements are generally its weakest points, but it’s affecting to see Salgado talk about the emotional toll of witnessing so much suffering, and how it triggered his shift in focus to the beauty of nature. Whether capturing human anguish or natural wonders, Salgado has an eye for the transcendent, and this movie puts that skill front and center, letting the photographer himself remain mostly out of the way of the camera.