By Bob Strauss, 06/15/14, 11:35 AM PDT
“My Name Is Salt” is a stunningly beautiful experience to watch. Living it is a whole other question.
That’s not just a rhetorical statement. Farida Pacha’s documentary about an Indian family that spends more than half a year coaxing the seasoning out of a desert basin — it becomes a lake during monsoon time — is as straightforward, if gorgeously shot, as they come. We’re simply shown the incredibly complicated and labor-intensive process of this kind of old school salt extraction, along with some business dealings and the occasional recreation activity. The film doesn’t ask us to admire, pity or in any way judge the workers and their situation.
That leaves comfortable, First World viewers free to appreciate the details of the process, feel relieved that they don’t have to do anything like that for a living, simply wallow in the loving depictions of land and sky and ethnography or get kinda guilty about any or all of that. Or all of the above.
This kind of Vérité was once the dominant mode of American documentary making, but it was long ago replaced by advocacy films that “instructed” you how to properly respond. I’ve grown to take such film with, ahem, a grain of salt.
“My Name Is Salt,” along with its many other virtues, offers a refreshing sense of free response.