Werner Herzog/ USA Germany France/ 2016/ 98 mins
As part of Glasgow Film Festival
Herzog is a talented German director and documentarian. He is obsessed with borderline human states, often echoed in extreme natural landscapes (Fitzcarraldo, Grizzly Man). This film is another opportunity for him to display a personal vision about the relationships between man and the environment.
Transposed from a short story by Tom Bissell, his new feature film takes us to Bolivia, where a delegation of three scientists cross the Atlantic to investigate the premises of an ecological disaster (the extension of the Uyuni desert which is not, actually, a result of an ecological disaster). On arrival, Laura (Veronica Ferres) and her delegates are kidnapped by a masked mercenary-type group and imprisoned in a monastery.
Salt and Fire is a puzzling film, with twists and turns and changes of registers throughout a three parts narration. The first part is driven by efficient tensions, albeit with a rather caricature-like display of the scientists and the villains. Soon, action is replaced by philosophical dialogues between Laura and Matt (Michael Shannon), her captor, as he forces her into (sometimes risible) considerations about human impact on the environment.
After an hour confined in obscure eco-ethical cogitation (in the oppressive monastery), comes the most interesting part of the movie; when Herzog takes us in the Uyuni desert. Matt drives Laura and abandons her in the middle of the white immensity when two blinds boys appear out of nowhere. As a fearful mother wolf recovering her cubs, she organises their survival in the inhospitable environment. An intriguing atmosphere then invades the screen to unravel a meditative, beautifully filmed landscape. The stark strangeness warms up with the emotion spanning from the two children with whom she must share the situation.
Contemplation gives all its power to this strange film as soon as we enter the troubled and splendid scenery. And after unclear predictions, Herzog’s film leaves us to confront our fear of the potentially threatening of nature.
An off-the-beaten track movie, worth seeing for Herzog’s fans.