Salt and Fire
dir-scr Werner Herzog
prd Nina Maag, Werner Herzog, Michael Benaroya, Pablo Cruz
with Veronica Ferres, Michael Shannon, Lawrence Krauss, Gael Garcia Bernal, Volker Zack Michalowski, Danner Ignacio Marquez Arancibia, Gabriel Marquez Arancibia, Anita Briem, Fred Nunez, Alejandro Vargas Ruiz, Boris Gemio Zamora, Alvaro Villa Pereira
release US 7.Apr.17, UK 24.Apr.17
16/Bolivia 1h38
Salt and Fire
Under the volcano: Shannon and Ferres

garcia herzog
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Salt and Fire There's a strained artificiality to this film, which indulges in oddly poetic dialog and heightened acting to recount a story about the tension between nature and corporate greed. Or maybe that's not what it's about at all. Because in the end it feels like a story of learning to accept responsibility, reminding us that perhaps this is what's needed to bring redemption to the world.

Arriving in Bolivia to investigate a growing ecological disaster, UN expert Laura (Ferres) and her colleagues Fabio and Arnold (Garcia and Michalowski) are diverted to a private plane by a local official (Krauss). At an isolated airfield, they are kidnapped by masked militiamen and taken to a high-altitude hideout. All of this was staged by Matt (Shannon), head of the consortium responsible for the catastrophe, which involves a growing volcano, an expanding salt flat and constant earthquakes that are building to a possible eruption with the power to obliterate humanity.

The film has an offhanded, creepy tone that catches the interest, especially as Herzog makes clever use of the fascinating Bolivian locations. Details are witty and quietly intense, while the actors develop their strained interaction in unexpected directions. Some of the performances feel rather awkward and melodramatic, with explosive emotions and lots of not-so-pent-up anger. There's a flood of ideas flowing through the film, circling around topics like politics, commerce, art and religion.

Everything in the film feels a bit alien, which isn't unusual for Herzog. But since the characters are equally enigmatic, the film is somewhat difficult to engage with. What holds the attention are the bizarrely mysterious characters and the spectacular imagery. When the story moves onto the vast salt flat, it begins to look like a movie shot on another planet. And drastic shifts in tone keep viewers on their toes, especially in the extended survival interlude with Laura and two blind young boys (the Marquez brothers).

Basically, this is a film about the arrogance of man in the face of nature, and that our relentless exploitation of resources is likely to result in our extinction, but the planet will be just fine. The scenes with Laura and the boys have an earthy natural humour that draws deeper themes out without ever making it obvious. There are even moments of bright whimsy that feel refreshing amid dark discussions about a range of gravely important issues.

cert 12 themes, violence 20.Apr.17

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