Salt And Fire


Reviewed by: Luke Shaw

Salt And Fire
"The posturing and overly theatrical nature of the delivery is going to make or break the experience for many."

Salt And Fire is distinctly Herzogian. Adapted from videogame writer Tom Bissell's short story Aral, it is an ecological thriller set in Bolivia, at once quietly apocalyptic and bathetically nonsensical. Germany’s most famous actress, Veronica Ferres, plays Laura Somerfeld, a scientist leading a delegation - consisting of Gael Garcia Bernal and Volker Zack Michalowski - there from the UN to investigate El Blanco Diablo, the worst man-made ecological disaster on the planet.

Events are derailed swiftly, as the delegation are taken hostage by a mysterious group of terrorists who fly them out to a remote village and incapacitate Laura’s companions by giving them dumplings that inflict them with… comically bad diarrhoea. In time, the terrorist leader reveals himself as Matt Riley (Michael Shannon), head of the ambiguous business conglomerate “The Consortium”, a man who wants to hold the industrial sector to account for the disaster they have brought into being.

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So far, so banal Hollywood thriller, but Herzog twists the material through a tortured script that leads to characters blurting aphorisms like museum information points. Shannon is all fury and philosophy, at one moment shouting Herzog-style ramblings in his characteristic bellow, in others quietly reading absurd facts from history whose relevance you take on blind faith.

The posturing and overly theatrical nature of the delivery is going to make or break the experience for many, with the friction between philosophical musings on information being subject to perspective and the deadpan humour of Herzog’s cast of cutout characters feeling uncomfortable at worst, absurdly comic at best.

Things grasp for a kind of dramatic tension when Laura finds herself abandoned on an island in the middle of the Unyuni Salt Flats with partially blind twins named after Incan royalty, and Riley explains that the nearby Super Volcano may erupt any day now. Typically, nothing comes to pass in this dreamlike film, and the finale is mainly concerned with spiritualism and humour on the endless and breathtaking salt flats. Theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss steals the final moments with an absurd comic break, and the whole film is so unhinged by the end that it isn’t really clear what the point is.

As in much of Herzog’s work, his fascination with the oddities of real life lend things a distinctly Pynchonian feel. It becomes difficult to unpick fact from reality, and as Riley intones dramatically about the one place on earth he’d like to see before he dies - a cloister in Rome where a painting of a Saint unfolds as you walk down the corridor to reveal a landscape in the folds of the cloth - it does begin to feel like perspective is the only thing separating the real from the unreal.

Reviewed on: 17 Feb 2017
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A scientist blames the head of a large company for an ecological disaster in South America. But when a volcano begins to show signs of erupting, they must unite to avoid a disaster.

Director: Werner Herzog

Writer: Werner Herzog, based on the short story by Tom Bissel

Starring: Michael Shannon, Gael García Bernal, Werner Herzog, Anita Briem, Veronica Ferres

Year: 2016

Runtime: 98 minutes

Country: France, Bolivia, USA, Germany, Mexico


Glasgow 2017

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