This movie is a really, really gripping documentary about photographer Sebastiao Salgado (father of co-director Juliano Salgado). It’s directed in a really sparse way. Long sections of the film are just close-ups of Sebastiao as he talks about his experiences; at other times, it’s essentially a slideshow of renowned photographs as Sebastiao does a voice over discussing them. If this sounds dry, it isn’t; this is one of the most emotionally gripping films I’ve seen in a long time. The movie takes a bit to really get going, but once Salgado’s career really gets started, he finds himself going into refugee camps, areas of harsh poverty and war-zones. The photographs he takes in these areas are beyond harrowing, beyond haunting, beyond disturbing. Images of intense human suffering and graphic images of death take over the film for a lengthy period; “Everyone should see these images,” Salgado says and it feels true, but it doesn’t make the sit any easier. Salgado talks about how this period of his life really killed his soul and his belief in goodness and as the film plunges into his resulting despair and nihilism, I found myself just really with him, in this deep well of existential despair. But then about two-thirds of the way through the film, the movie takes a turn and becomes something entirely different, different in subject, different in tone, different in message, different in emotion. But the film remains emotionally evocative and absolutely compelling in a really powerful way. I don’t want to spoil this last third or so of the film; I feel rather like I’ve said too much even telling you that the twist happens, but I kind of want to reassure you to continue watching the film. As a viewer, I fear that many people will simply find the middle section harrowing and disturbing enough that they will turn the film off and not finish it and believe me when I say that this would be a real shame. So, when things get too dark and too soul-crushing for you, embrace it in the spirit of Salgado, the spirit that believes in expression of the truth of human suffering. And then let the movie change everything about itself and about you. This is a great film, one that deserves to be seen the world over and by generations to come. Highly recommended. 4 stars.
tl;dr – documentary of photographer’s career is a harrowing & disturbing portrait of human suffering; but it has a trick up its sleeve that changes everything. A genuine must-see. 4 stars.