The Salt of the Earth (What is grief? What is resilience?)

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When events of uncaring disconnection (from fellow human beings, from history) happen—when people pull others into their pain, insecurities, and fear, as I believe is the case most of the time—the consequences turn into the greatest crises we see—terrorism, unjust laws and systematic practices, murder, genocide, everyday hatred, etc. It is hard for me to continue to believe in the “grieving process” or “human resilience.” And it makes me especially uncomfortable to hear people praise victims for their “dignity” and “grace” in handling injustice. People would not have to grieve or be resilient in these cases if we made our world better and did not waste our human potential—not our potential to build buildings or bridges or “win” a war—but our potential to treat each other humanely and with empathy and actually learn from history. But I guess a historian in a podcast I recently listened to was right—there is no such thing as learning from history. We learn the wrong things from history. But—still—I believe we can learn.

Sebastião Salgado spent decades depicting, in exquisite black-and-white photographs, horrific human events humans have perpetuated against other humans. He finally had to turn away from war, genocide, starvation, famine, and unspeakable horrors lived. After covering the Rwandan genocide, Salgado lost faith in humanity; his psyche was done. He says, “We are a ferocious animal. We humans are terrible animals. Our history is a history of wars. It’s an endless story, a tale of madness.” He’d reached the “maximum,” as he explains, because photography makes the photographer “part of the subject.” It was nature that rejuvenated him. He captures the beauty of the natural world (and how it does replenish itself) with the message that we must preserve it. This work became Genesis. In this interview with Benedikt Taschen, Taschen expresses that it is his hope that the book will “make a significant contribution to the awareness about the world we live in.”

The Salt of the Earth (2014 Academy Award® nominee, Best Documentary Feature, directed by Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado) shows us that that—contributing “awareness about the world we live in”—is exactly what Sebastião Salgado has always done. With his remarkable spirit as an economist turned photographer, he shows us the land, the water, and the human condition in intimate ways that should bring us closer to one another. I know it made me feel more connected. This stunning documentary reflects Salgado’s stunning life’s work.

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Sebastião Salgado | Click photo for Amazonas images
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(Relatos salvajes) Wild Tales — And I am still looking over my shoulder

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I find myself looking over my shoulder, especially at work because I am often sitting with my back to the open door. Wild Tales (a 2014 Academy Award® nominee for Foreign Language Film) is a dark, satirical comedy from Argentina that will have you squirming in your seat as you witness the truth about humanity. I enjoyed this squirming because I attend movies in order to face reality, not to escape it, and human experience is more often than not (extremely) farcical. I (very) often find myself wishing that more people felt more liberated to act according to their true feelings and not simply “keep calm” because of the expectation that seems to dominate, which is that people can act ridiculously toward us, but we must not, through our reactions, show them just how ridiculous they are. With these reactions, we are encouraged to do what, in my mind, is the most dangerous action–withhold the truth. In order to stop encouraging disrespectful, uncritical, selfish behavior, we need to react truthfully more often–and sometimes that includes “flipping out.” After all, the perpetrators of ridiculousness have figured out that they can get away with their plentiful lack of decorum, or they are indignant when faced with consequences. That indignation is what causes me to look over my shoulder, hence the “Pasternak” (Dario Grandinetti, Maria Marull, Monica Villa) story. Wild Tales is an anthology film, and the stories are linked by theme, not by plot. “Pasternak” is the first and begins and ends before the opening credits.

Wild Tales (directed by Damián Szifron) is well done and extremely satisfying because it presents people who go through with those truthful reactions. Those reactions seem extreme (and are extreme), but if we did not bottle up our feelings so often, maybe those extremes would not be so prevalent–or maybe they still would be because people are awfully horrible to each other for all sorts of reasons. But every action has an equal and opposite reaction, so one better be prepared. Perhaps the worst part of facing someone that has greatly wronged you in the past (to the point of ruining your life and the life of your loved one) is finding out that the person has not changed at all and is as contemptible as before. Should all decency be thrown away in order to teach that person a lesson? (“Las ratas” – Rita Cortese, Julieta Zylberberg, César Bordón). You never know what a person is going through in his life when you justifiably throw away all decency in order to let him know he is acting inappropriately. The sheer stubbornness that exists in us cannot be underestimated when we desire to assert our superiority and prove that we will not allow another to have the last word. “El más fuerte” (Leonardo Sbaraglia, Walter Donado) takes this to a level that started my first fit of squirming (enjoyably) in the theater.

“Bombita” (Ricardo Darin, Nancy Dupláa) is yet another story of someone pushed over the edge who does not simply shake it off and deal with it. It is about how we all often feel when we go out during the day. No matter how much we try to avoid trouble, trouble always finds us, and our only hope rests in the lap of blind followers of the “system” who cannot or will not help us because they are simply focused on “doing their job” and not on justice or simple common sense. In “La propuesta” (Oscar Martínez, María Onetto, Osmar Núñez, Germán de Silva), a patriarch throws up his arms and refuses to take responsibility for his son’s mistakes and continue to deal with opportunists only out for his money. Though able to use money to buy his way out of problems, he realizes it is no longer worth it. He angrily retreats, and yes, he has to face indignation from all around. But, “Hasta que la muerte nos separe” (Érica Rivas, Diego Gentile) reminds us that sometimes if both parties fight it out (in public) until they are mentally (and physically) exhausted and everything is out on the table and out of their systems, they can, in fact, reconcile. And there is that theme again: getting out the truth works.

Favorite Films of 2014 (Ranked) – And Oscar Predictions

My Favorite Films of 2014

1. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
2. Boyhood
3. Whiplash
4. Gone Girl
5. Selma
6. The Theory of Everything
7. The Immigrant
8. Obvious Child
The Case Against 8
Life Itself
9. LockeMy 2014 Top 10
10. A Most Violent Year
11. The Grand Budapest Hotel
12. Listen Up Philip
13. The One I Love
14. Wild
15. American Sniper
Citizenfour
16. Ida
17. Bicycling with Molière
18. The Way He Looks
19. Into The Woods
20. My Old Lady
21. Two Days, One Night
22. Nightcrawler
23. Belle
24. Love is Strange
25. Get On Up
26. The Lunchbox
27. The Fault in Our Stars
28. The Imitation Game
29. Lilting
30. Foxcatcher
31. Interstellar
32. Annie
33. Black or White
34. The Lego Movie
35. Still Alice
36. The Homesman
37. Big Eyes
38. Enemy
39. Words and Pictures
40. The Face of Love
41. Endless Love
42. Rosewater
43. Unbroken
44. Frank vs. God
45. Before I Go to Sleep

Nominees are ranked by my preference.

Actress in a Leading Role

  1. Julianne Moore
  2. Rosamund Pike
  3. Marion Cotillard
  4. Felicity Jones
  5. Reese Witherspoon

Will Win: Julianne Moore
Should Win: Julianne Moore


Actor in a Leading Rule

  1. Michael Keaton
  2. Eddie Redmayne
  3. Bradley Cooper
  4. Benedict Cumberbatch
  5. Steve Carell

Will Win: Eddie Redmayne (I have doubts!–I want to be wrong here!)
Should Win: Michael Keaton

Actor in a Supporting Role

1. J.K. Simmons
2. Edward Norton
3. Ethan Hawke
4. Mark Ruffalo

Will Win: J.K. Simmons

Actress in a Supporting Role

  1. Patricia Arquette
  2. Emma Stone
  3. Keira Knightley
  4. Meryl Streep
  5. Laura Dern

Will Win: Patricia Arquette
Should Win: Patricia Arquette


Best Picture of the Year 

  1. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (1)
  2. Boyhood (2)
  3. Whiplash (3)
  4. Selma (5)
  5. The Theory of Everything (6)
  6. The Grand Budapest Hotel (11)
  7. American Sniper (15)
  8. The Imitation Game (28)

Will Win: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Should Win: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Could Win: Boyhood