Tag: wim wenders

Submergence


Submergence (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

Those expecting a typical romance in which a potential couple meet, court, and live happily ever after are in for a big disappointment because, although beautifully photographed, Wim Wenders’ “Submergence” is more adult-oriented than fantasy-leaning escapism. Rather than focusing on plot, it is interested in showing challenging circumstances, building a perfect mood to capture longing and loneliness, presenting the details of one’s work, and underlining the distance between lovers than it is about showing its subjects physically interacting to make the viewers swoon. Its vision is without compromise and I respect that.

Notice the atypical technique in which succeeding scenes are presented. It is fluid, like water, an important symbol in the picture, almost as though we are seeing the images through a flow of consciousness or deeply personal, somewhat guarded memories. It is important, I think, that it is presented in this manner so that audiences get an impression of the feelings of incompleteness that the two lovers undergo when they are separated. Because of their occupations, there is no two-way letter-writing or texting involved. And in addition to the subjects not knowing each other for very long before they must separate, there is only uncertainty. Here is a film in which we grow increasingly unsure whether the protagonists would see each other again—a rarity in the romance sub-genre.

Danielle and James, a bio-mathematician preparing for a deep-sea dive and a British spy posing as a water engineer, are played by Alicia Vikander and James McAvoy, respectively. They share solid chemistry as their characters meet in a stunning seaside hotel in Normandy. As intuitive performers, closely observe their body languages as requisite lines are uttered with subtlety and passion. Because by also focusing on the unsaid, it provides us a more complete picture of what these characters are about and what they hope to achieve. It is critical that we feel or understand Danielle and James’ love for what they do, their personal and professional missions, so that we buy into the idea of why they ultimately choose to put themselves in potentially dangerous situations.

Yes, the dialogue offers some scientific jargon, which may be a challenge to sit through for some, but I think the focus ought to be on the intention behind these words. The dialogue is written so beautifully that at times, for example, Danielle may choose to use opaque words in order to hide her feelings of awkwardness with a man she just met. But what makes James interesting, for instance, is that he is a great listener, a skill that is required in his line of work, and so he is able to pierce through the fog and reach her. Still, however, she offers surprises in store. Their meeting is only the setup for the plot but it is so strong, it could have been an entire picture on its own.

Beauty and brutality collide when Danielle and James follow their respective paths. Hydrothermal vents in the deep Atlantic Ocean look like alien worlds while jihadists treat precious human lives as insects to be crushed at the slightest sign of annoyance. Interiors of ships, particularly of a laboratory filled with curious equipments, are polished and elegant while interiors of war-ravaged buildings, particularly the unsanitary clinic, highlight the fears and overall unhappiness—torment—of a community. We are meant to wonder whether Danielle and James’ contrasting worlds are so different, they might end up getting sucked into them, extinguishing every chance of getting back together. But what’s brilliant, I think, is the picture does not simply rely on a romantic reunion.

The Salt of the Earth


The Salt of the Earth (2014)
★★★★ / ★★★★

A picture of a woman had impacted director Wim Wenders so deeply that he hopes to find out what drives the person who took it and understand why he had left an impression on the filmmaker. The photograph was shot by renowned social photographer Sebastião Salgado, whose outstanding work ranges from covering stories for Doctors Without Borders to restoring a forest in Brazil. The subject is fascinating because he has lived.

The film opens by showing a photograph of hundreds of men in a goldmine. For a split-second, I was reminded of those great scenes in old epic movies where hundreds, even thousands, of extras are employed because computer generated images was not yet possible. It is most impressive how one photograph contains so much detail, from the ladders hanging from hundreds of feet above to the grimy but expressive faces of those desperate to find gold. Via narration, it is explained to us that even though the figures on the photograph appear to look like slaves, they are far from it. These people are intellectuals, university graduates, some are farmers. They are, however, slaves to the hope of striking it rich.

Aside from Salgado’s actual, well-chosen photographs, the narration is one of the most effective elements in the film. There are times when the director is speaking but there are sequences where we hear from Salgado himself. They inspire us to not only look at the images as they are or to evaluate the technical elements that make a successful picture. Instead, at times they allow us to consider the historical context, the feelings of the people being photographed, maybe even what Salgado was thinking at the time when he captured a moment. It offers an educational experience both from a filmmaker’s and a photographer’s standpoint. That is what makes the documentary special.

Although memorable images are abound, especially when the film takes its time to cover the repercussions of the severe droughts in the Sahel region of Africa, one photograph that made an impression on me depicts an image of a dead child in a snug coffin. His eyes are forcibly open because he had not been baptized. He is to be buried this way—but sans the rental coffin. Having the eyes open would allow him to find his way given the belief that children who have not been baptized prior to their deaths are not allowed to enter heaven. After hearing this, I caught myself tuning out of the picture—which is a good thing because it has forced my mind to actively process the information that had been provided. The documentary is likely to hold up upon second viewing.

Directed by Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, the photographer’s son, “The Salt of the Earth” is executed with verve, a willingness to engage, and a sense of purpose. I admire the picture for shedding light not only on the human condition but also to remind us that we should be humbled as a species for having the privilege of living on this planet. The closing section of the film involves Salgado’s work with nature—the plants, animals, and inanimate objects only found in little-seen areas of the planet.