“The Salt of the Earth” (2014) –Drawing with Light

Salgado's Iguana Hand

Iguana Marina

Sebastiao Salgado, the renowned Brazilian sociopolitical photographer,  is the subject of this emotionally harrowing documentary. The viewer witnesses photographs of heartbreaking gravity and human agony, both unprecedented and breathtaking. The 2014 Academy Award nominated The Salt of the Earth reveals Salgado’s masterpieces of portraiture, political journalism, landscape, and animals in a way that evokes strong feelings. A display of Ansel Adams this is not!

Perhaps the most startling experience in watching The Salt of the Earth is the beauty that is embedded in the tragic and cruel situations of his subjects. Here we see the evidence of his emotional response to what he photographs and frame by frame, in mostly black and white photos. Each black and white photograph is a meditation, not a representation and Salgado is keenly aware of this as he narrates each photographic series: “Workers”, “Exodus”, “Genesis”, and others.

The majority of The Salt of the Earth is extremely painful to watch–a testimony to violence, genocide, and holocausts beyond even the most grotesque of imaginations. Deeply affecting, this documentary visualizes the inhumane, abject conditions that much of the world’s population, particularly women and children, endure. The Salt of the Earth is a must-see. Courageous and compassionate, Salgado explains his photographs in elegant poetic form: “Our history is a history of wars. It’s an endless story, a tale of madness.” With soulful voice and unbelievably sad eyes, he is unflinching in reporting on the ugliness of human existence but also the beauty of those struggling to survive. The underbelly of human behavior is powerfully depicted, mostly in stark monochromatic photos, with the support of the extraordinary director Wim Wenders (of “Buena Vista Social Club” and “End of Violence” fame).

Blind Woman of Mali

Blind Woman of Mali

Anyone watching The Salt of the Earth will wonder how Salgado survived the horrors of what he witnessed,– the heart of darkness,– with his soul intact. “We humans are terrible animals” he says at one point. He himself confesses there were times when all he did was sob throughout the night. Photographing war and genocide may have brought Salgado to the edge of despair and insanity, but recently his projects have been redirected to renewing and restoring the planet.

Salgado is a living testimony to how art can be witness to truth.  His photographs and experience, his “drawings in light”, The Salt of the Earth is unforgettable. You cannot but be moved by this film!

Note:  Available on Netflix

 

Sense of an Ending (2017) –Remembrance of Things Past

 

Sense of an Ending movie

Based on Julian Barnes’s novel

 

Sense of an Ending works better on the page than The Sense of an Ending works on the screen. Novels are mental and films are visual and Julian Barnes’s 2011 Man Booker Prize novel, Sense of an Ending, has been acclaimed for elegance, incisiveness and for the powerful unreliable memory of the main character. The Sense of an Ending (directed by Ritesh Batra, also director of the delightful Lunchbox) is a dramatic adaptation of the novel. It glides back and forth in time as we view the disconnected pieces of a previously unexamined life and the exploration of memory’s role in constructing one’s identity.

Tony Armstrong (a subtle performance by Jim Broadbent) becomes obsessed with his college days, after he is bequeathed his best friend’s diary The problem is that the diary is in the possession of his old girl friend Victoria (Charlotte Rampling). She refuses to hand it over. Now a late sixty-something semi-retired shop keeper, Tony’s days are a  meandering in a foggy haze of opaque memory.

A mystery begins to unfold, literally, in Tony’s rearview mirror and in his present, as he searches for answers concerning Adrian’s diary. What follows is the destruction of self-identity, friendship, and one’s life story caused by a letter saved from the past.

Some of the most crucial details in character and plot are left to the viewer to determine, and the motivation, regret, and loss of one’s own story are not available to the viewer. Tantalizing clues as to what impact the letter had are sorely lacking.

We all remember an event differently. We’re raised by the same parents, with the same siblings but we still have had different childhoods. Older people have more of a past than the young, so their memories are full of memories of memories–and of ways to construct versions of themselves they feel comfortable with. And how do the things that we forget, choose to leave out or just misremember affect how we view our past, our present, ourselves?

Broadbent tries heroically to suggest his longing to make things right before decrepitude and dying set in–to have the life he chooses to remember, but Sense of an Ending left this viewer wanting more of the interior life–the quiet catastrophe– of this flawed, unlikable character. How does an older self pass judgment on the younger version? Perhaps psychological narratives like Sense of an Ending demand too much from cinematic presentation, visual scenes of the reflection of the mind.

 

Posted in movie reviews | Tagged , , , | 3 Replies

3 comments on “Sense of an Ending (2017) –Remembrance of Things Past

  1. Thank you for this review, Diana. The book has been sitting on my nightstand for months, lent by my daughter, and now I am inspired to finish reading it – sounds exquisite and reflective. I wonder how the film might have turned out in a sensitive European director’s hands?!

  2. I recall seeing that book when it came out. Maybe now I’ll read it. Thanks.

    Just saw a movie I do NOT recommend. Lady Macbeth. Good plotting and visuals. But we don’t learn about the inner lives of even the main character well enough to care as the macabre events unfold. A disappointment.

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“Case”–Hot or Cold?

Case Netflix Original

Case, Netflix Original

Nordic Noir crime dramas are now being imported and exported at an ever-increasingly rapid rate. Case, a Netflix Original, premiered in Iceland in 2015. In all that sharing of this Nordic noir genre, there has been a great flattening of content and quality with an obvious formula identifying the genre. This is my ninth review of Nordic Noir films and mini-series.  I am so addicted I inhale these grim, bleak, crime thrillers in almost a voyeuristic way. But I tell myself it’s only really dangerous and/or sick if you take action. No worries, but it is like watching a train wreck. Or is this genre an act of subterfuge? Corking our anxiety like acid in a vial?

Case begins in exactly the way we’ve come to expect: a young girl — in this case a teenage ballerina — is found dead in a horrifying scene. A gruff police investigator (with some deficiency in social skills) and her partner (a disgraced lawyer), obsessive and determined, solve the case against great odds from the authorities, those they assume they can trust, and slowly reveal the dark secrets of the entitled class.

In Case a wonderfully dowdy, suitably curmudgeonly, single female detective, Gabriela (Steinunn Ólína Þorsteinsdóttir), tenaciously works on solving the murder like an OCD avenging angel.

A wild drug-and-sex bacchanalia (common for this genre) provides local color as the stark naked blackmailer addresses his interrogator while distractedly pulling on his “man-meat”. (Is this a new first in cinematography?) Add Case to your Nordic noir watch list.

Movies today are sometimes extreme projections of the silver screen of our fears and dreams. And Nordic noir almost monopolizes the fear category (excluding horror, which I avoid). Case is not nearly as tightly woven as Bordertown, Department Q, or The Break to name a few, Nevertheless, the narrative still held my interest. Instead of evocative red herrings to take the viewer off track, Case has a saggy middle of irrelevant scenes that nearly destroys the pacing.   My advice–stick with it past the first two episodes (of nine) and the narrative picks up with a head-spinning series of surprises especially in episodes seven and eight.