‘The Salt Of the Earth’ Review: Anguish, Empathy and Majesty

March 26, 2015 7:15 PM

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‘The Salt Of the Earth’ Review: Anguish, Empathy and Majesty

Moving pictures are supposed to move, but the most moving ones in “The Salt Of the Earth” are stills. This exemplary documentary celebrates the work of the Brazilian photojournalist Sebastião Salgado; it was directed by Wim Wenders and the subject’s son, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado. You may know the elder Salgado’s work from his iconic images—the overused adjective has never been more apt—of a Brazilian gold mine, with tens of thousands of manual laborers digging the soil simultaneously in a single, immense hole. (Some of those images provide the documentary’s opening sequence.) Mr. Salgado has chronicled anguish, suffering and the vicissitudes of human labor over the course of four decades, always in black-and-white and often with a tension between hellish circumstances and heavenly lighting. The film is suffused with his anguish over the state of our species, and our planet. Yet it ends with a change of heart and a turn of events that make a plausible case for hope.

The best way to see “The Salt Of the Earth” is on a big screen, so seize the opportunity if it’s playing nearby. Still, the subject matter will also be suited for DVD or streaming video, where frames can be frozen to savor the substance and formal beauty of the photography. Before he became a photog...

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