Herzog’s narrative filmmaking has always been something of a mixed affair, and this is no exception. At turns astonishingly beautiful and deeply weird, ‘Salt and Fire’ careens from the sublime to the ridiculous that creates a production, which is wildly uneven, but always engaging.
This eco-thriller follows scientist Laura Somerfeld (Veronica Ferres) and her team on a UN expedition to investigate the mysterious Diablo Blanco disaster. Arriving at the airport, they are kidnapped by men in black balaclavas, who give Laura’s team a case of “terrible diarrhoea” and hold Laura hostage with unclear purpose. The script is deeply awkward and clunky to the point of parody – if you got an alien with very limited experience of human interaction to write a Hollywood blockbuster, it would probably read something like this – and it’s hard to figure out whether Herzog is deliberately sending up Hollywood cliches or just a shockingly bad scriptwriter. The performances are strangely stilted too, particularly Michael Shannon as mysterious kidnapper Riley, who seems to be trying to fight against the tepid script with little success.
However, for every comically bad moment, there is also genuine beauty – when Laura’s kidnappers abandon her on an island in the Salar de Uyuni salt flats with two local blind boys, the awkward script is overshadowed by Herzog’s lyrical filmmaking, the alien beauty of the salt flats providing a fantastic backdrop for Herzog’s eccentric style. This is a film of two halves – one with a laughable script to rival “The Room”, the other with breathtaking cinematography and the charmingly eccentric quality of a modern fable. From the sublime to the ridiculous, “Salt and Fire” is an often messy, but undeniably entertaining piece of cinema.