Whatever plot exists in the film is essentially is a veil for a handful of characters to speak in Herzog-ian dialogue.
Midway through “Salt and Fire,” a character who has been in a wheelchair for the entire film suddenly stands up and starts walking around. Laura (Veronica Ferres), our protagonist, says to him:
“Dr. Krauss. I see you walking. Is this a miracle?”
“No. I only use the wheelchair when I’m tired of life”
This is a taste of the bizarre dialogue from “Salt and Fire.” In addition to being nonsensical, it’s given such a wooden delivery it actually feels like a movie dubbed by someone who doesn’t speak English. It’s so bizarre, it had me wondering how aware the filmmaker was of the film’s delivery– if this were a first-time filmmaker I would assume they had absolutely no idea what they’re doing.
However, this is a film made by acclaimed filmmaker Werner Herzog, who just last year directed two top-tier, intellectually challenging documentaries. His career is full of artfully crafted (although certainly eccentric) works of cinema.
Yet with his latest outing, “Salt and Fire,” the further I watched, the more I began to theorize a most unusual thought: is Werner Herzog trolling us right now? Knowing what he is capable of and his recent work, it seems hard to imagine that he can watch this film back and say it’s great filmmaking.
Whatever plot exists in the film is essentially is a veil for a handful of characters to speak in Herzog-ian dialogue. In recent years, Herzog’s eccentric persona has become a bit of a caricature that he himself has embraced, because as he has said, saying big words with his Bavarian accent is a recipe for intrigue.
It’s even more bizarre when talented actors like Michael Shannon and Gael Garcia Bernal, who we’ve seen deliver powerhouse performances elsewhere, speak using Herzog vocabulary but in a robotic and nonsensical matter.
It’s even more bizarre when talented actors like Michael Shannon and Gael Garcia Bernal, who we’ve seen deliver powerhouse performances elsewhere, speak using Herzog vocabulary but in a robotic and nonsensical matter. One of the main characters, Dr. Krauss, is not played by an actor, but by an actual scientist, and his delivery is painfully bad but sounds normal because everyone else in this universe is speaking in such an unnatural manner.
Other clues suggest some sort of self-aware tomfoolery at foot. In one shot that takes place on an airplane, Herzog makes a director’s cameo sitting behind the characters on the flight. It becomes comical as the scene runs, in a single take, for well over 5 minutes with Herzog looming the background the entire time.
However, the moment that most assured me this must be trolling is when Michael Shannon, midway through a conversation about the earth and nature, breaks the fourth wall, looking directly at the camera and says the movie’s title. “Salt and Fire.” Any self-seriousness is gone with a moment like that.
Regardless of if Herzog is intentionally trolling us or not, the movie is frankly unwatchable. Thankfully it’s only 98 minutes, but this is the type of bad cinema that could make a casual moviegoer never want to enter their local indie movie theater again. Maybe, one day this film will be rediscovered as Herzog’s misunderstood commentary on the self-seriousness of the world. But more likely, it’s destined to live at the bottom of the 99-cent bargain bin section… amidst other pieces of salt… and fire…
“Salt and Fire” is not rated. 98 minutes. Opening at the today the Arena Cinelounge Sunset and on VOD.