Movie review: 'Salt and Fire'

Werner Herzog’s ‘thriller’ deflates expectations and assumptions


Werner Herzog makes movies that don’t follow the traditional action-exposition-romance-car crash-ending formula.

Long revered as an art house master, Herzog’s interests move all around the map, reaching far beyond the boundaries of mere workaday cinema to look at the ways human beings interact with animals, the environment and ephemeral life within an eternal universe. That is why a description for his latest film, “Salt and Fire,” reads like it was the end result of a copy writer’s hair-pulling nightmare.

It goes, “A scientist blames the head of a large company for an ecological disaster in South America. But when a volcano begins to show signs of erupting, they must unite to avoid a disaster.” Sounds like a thriller, with loads of intrigue, deception and — dare I say — violence. Right?

Instead, Herzog takes every instance where we, the audience, might expect to see something predictable and deliberately takes a left turn, veering off into unforeseen territory.

When the film opens, we are thrust into a situation fraught with mystery and many unanswered questions. A small delegation of scientists led by a woman named Laura Sommerfeld (Veronica Ferres) has been taken hostage by men in military fatigues, black masks and automatic weapons in what appears to be a Latin American country.

Then, we flash back some hours to the plane ride that is bringing them to South America as part of a United Nations investigation into the ecological disaster of Salar de Uyuni, a vast salt lake that may be tied to illegal corporate activity. But, not much happens other than discovering that Dr. Fabio Cavani (Gael García Bernal) is a sexist insecure jerk, Dr. Arnold Meier (Volker Michalowski) is an uptight bureaucrat type and Sommerfeld is a get-to-business scientist who just wants to gather evidence, make her report and get out.

Then, back to the beginning, we learn that their captors aren’t the Latin American revolutionaries out to make some quick ransom money they thought they might be. In fact, they are the exact opposite and the reason for their capture is just as puzzling.

Herzog then turns the entire exercise on its ear by extricating Sommerfeld from rather comfortable captivity to suddenly being left in the middle of the aforementioned salt lake with two blind Bolivian boys who don’t know a word of English.

Obviously, Herzog has a method to all this madness and even deigns to explain it all near the end, but the words themselves don’t quite do the trick because the director is so good at conveying meaning through unspoken means that its true explanation is intangible and maybe even unknowable. It is draped in carefully chosen shots and that strange, almost comic choice of music and in the things people don’t say.

You may at one point wonder if Herzog is having us all on a joke, but may also have to accede that the joke is more cosmic than you might think.

“Salt and Fire” is not rated, but it does contain some language, peril involving children and some mature situations.

This film will be screened at 2 p.m. Sunday (June 25) and at 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday (June 26-28).

This is part of the “Movies at the TCA” film series, Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. For tickets and additional information, call the Taos Center for the Arts at (575) 758-2052 or visit

Also showing in Taos

The following were edited from press materials unless specified.

All Eyez on Me

MPAA rating: R for language and drug use throughout, violence, some nudity and sexuality

Mitchell Storyteller 7

“I didn’t create ‘Thug Life,’ I diagnosed it,” Tupac Shakur once said. But, that acronym (meaning “The Hate U Give Little Infants F***s Everyone”) was a philosophy melded with revolutionary-hustler thought aided by the 1980s economy of crack that helped to fuel the artist’s meteoric rise to power not just as the greatest rapper who ever lived, but a larger-than-life symbol of black power.

That legacy, which still burns fiercely among his fans, isn’t done any favors by this amateurishly acted and surprisingly boring biopic.

What makes this unique, however, is that his music rights issues were somehow overcome, but with such gold, why doesn’t music video director Benny Boom use it to his advantage? This should form the meat of the story about a rap artist’s angry rise from his birth into Black Panther heritage to a symbol for urban rebellion so influential it was brought to national attention due to the extreme umbrage of then-Vice President Dan Quayle’s objection to Tupac’s hardcore lyrics. But, no. Instead, we get a watered-down TV movie-level script lamely acted by a cast of semi-lookalikes hitting all the already-pored-over details of the rap star’s too-short life. (Reviewed from an opening weekend screening.)

This film is screening daily.

Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For show times, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4245 or visit

Cars 3

MPAA rating: G for all audiences

Mitchell Storyteller 7

Blindsided by a new generation of blazing-fast racers, the legendary Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) is suddenly pushed out of the sport he loves. To get back in the game, he will need the help of an eager young race technician, Cruz Ramirez (voice of Cristela Alonzo), with her own plan to win, plus inspiration from the late Fabulous Hudson Hornet and a few unexpected turns. Proving that No. 95 isn’t through yet will test the heart of a champion on Piston Cup Racing’s biggest stage. Directed by Brian Fee, the digitally animated Disney film includes the voice talents of Armie Hammer, Larry the Cable Guy, Bonnie Hunt and Cheech Marin.

This film is screening daily.

Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For show times, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4245 or visit

Rough Night

MPAA rating: R for crude sexual content, language throughout, drug use and brief bloody images

Mitchell Storyteller 7

Five best friends from college reunite 10 years later for a wild bachelorette weekend in Miami. Their hard partying takes a hilariously dark turn when they accidentally kill a male stripper. Amid the craziness of trying to cover it up, they’re ultimately brought closer together when it matters most. Comedy directed by Lucia Aniello stars Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon, Zoë Kravitz, Ty Burrell and Demi Moore.

This film is screening daily.

Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For show times, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4245 or visit