28 April, 2012

Atlanta: "Sal" (***1/2)

Fele Martínez and Javiera Contador star in "Sal"

Perhaps the most undervalued film at this year's Atlanta Film Festival, Diego Rougier's "Sal" (or "Salt") was also one of the festival's most pleasant of surprises. Disguised as an homage to Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns, "Sal" is a more complex film than just that. In a clever mash-up of stories, the lines are blurred between the tale of a struggling independent filmmaker and the tale of a small town under the control of a rough and rowdy gang of cowboys.

The back-and-forth movement between the stories gets a little muddy at times before eventually becoming one singular narrative piece. The whole film works on a very relatable level, especially with such an ordinary lead character. Fele Martínez, who plays Sergio and is mistaken for Diego, is your casual non-hero. It is a nice change to see a character who is scared and unfamiliar with guns, rather than another Rambo who is already tougher than the bad guys. So often we are subjected to unbelievable characters who are instantly skilled upon every challenge. Sergio starts out as a coward and is forced to toughen up. By the end, you really feel as if you have walked in his shoes. Each main player goes a long way to earn your respective admiration or contempt. Best in show honors would have to go to Sergio Hernández as the elderly Vizcacha.

"Sal" was undoubtedly helmed with an artful eye. The breathtaking blues, tans and oranges of the Atacama make for one of the most beautiful color palettes a filmmaker could ask for. Although "Sal" looks like it had a decent budget, such an exquisite backdrop would make even the smallest of budgets seem irrelevant. Nico Torres puts forward his best Morricone impression with the score, but it takes more than a few harmonica cues to do the trick, I'm afraid.

While not exactly resonating as a spaghetti western revival, "Sal" succeeds as a powerfully beautiful and engaging couple of hours.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

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