Salero poster

Salero documentary poster

A vast, white salt flat that can be seen from space, Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni is one of the rare places that had been left untouched by modern civilization, until now. Through the portrait of one of the last saleros (salt gatherers), first time director Mike Plunkett documents the sudden, inexorable modernization of the area, capturing a world in transition.

Mr. Plunkett uses Moises and his family as a thread to show us how these individuals, environment and country are caught between past and future, old traditions and industrialization. Representing the past, Moises thinks his mission is to keep the saleros heritage alive, using just a shovel and a truck to gather salt. His wife and brother are however ready to move on, the former dreaming of a better life in the city, the latter banking on tourism as an easier and more lucrative career.  We also witness radical changes affecting various levels of the Salar’s environment. The emergence of tourism creates opportunities for construction work but, more importantly, a new plant turns lithium into the new prime local resource, with industrialization supplanting old, traditional labor.  It also shows how the exploitation of natural resources is seen as Bolivia’s way out of poverty – an ecological theme which has been tackled – and criticized – in various works even including James Bond’s Quantum of Solace.

One of my big issues with documentaries is that they always privilege substance over style, which undermines the impact of their message. As soon as Salero opens, it becomes however clear that the New York-based filmmaker understands that powerful images can transcend their meaning, Mr. Plunkett’s gorgeous cinematography conveying the beauty of this desolated landscape. The photography is slightly saturated, emphasizing the contrast between blue, white and yellow tones. Associated to a languid, naturalistic narrative, these visuals create a sense of poetry which is reminiscent of documentary films by Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man, Cave of Forgotten Dreams) and Wim Wenders (The Salt of the Earth).

To complete their work, Mr. Plunkett and his crew revisited Moises and Salar de Uyuni a few years later and, without spoiling it, it confirmed that once modernization has started, its process is irreversible. This conclusion makes this beautiful but melancholic documentary even more striking.

Director: Mike Plunkett – Running Time: 1:16 – Year: 2016 – Country: Bolivia, USA
Click here to watch the Salero trailer
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Fred Thom

Fred Thom

Editor-in-Chief/Founder/Film Critic at Plume Noire
The founder and editor-in-chief of Plume Noire, Fred Thom covers film festivals and writes movie reviews. He was born in Marseilles, France and is now living in Los Angeles, California.
Fred Thom

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