out of Five
Running time: 116
This light-hearted Chilean Western drama has some strong performances and amusing dialogue, but it unfortunately develops a clunky pace and loses its way in the second act.
What’s it all about?
Written and directed by Diego Rougier, Sal stars Fele Martinez as Sergio, an ambitious and hopeful film director, who becomes obsessed with writing and making a Western movie. In search of inspiration for his screenplay, Sergio travels to the Atacama Desert in Chile, where he gets mistaken for a man called Diego. Diego’s furious enemies mistakenly kidnap Sergio as punishment for Diego’s wrongdoings.
Soon after, Sergio finds himself in an isolated shack in the driest part of the Earth, with just an old man, who becomes an unlikely friend, for company. When he is later visited by the seductive Maria (Javiera Contador), an ex-lover of Diego’s, Sergio becomes increasingly baffled at his fate and must investigate the mystery of how Diego has landed in such hot water, whilst also trying to stay alive – all of which provide unlikely cues for his developing screenplay.
Sal is an original and sometimes charismatic Western drama with a punchy script, providing odd and welcome doses of humour in what is ultimately quite a severe storyline. The film’s decent cinematography provides pleasing and well-edited scopes of the Chilean desert, which is a harsh location for its dehydrated lead character Sergio, played well by Fele Martinez, who portrays the protagonist’s deep bewilderment, exhaustion and deliriousness to a notable degree. The support cast also provide a sturdy backbone to the sometimes juvenile plot and the score adds drama and suspense in some relevant places.
Despite a promising first half, Sal quickly loses its way and develops a clunky pace, leading to an overstayed welcome, which is a truly disappointing outcome for this once hopeful light-hearted Western. By the time the touching and amusing finale arrives, the pull between the characters, storyline and audience has expired and as a result, the second half is ultimately undesirable, bringing down the film’s overall impression.
Despite a hopeful set up, Sal soon falls off track and loses its way, but its punchy comical script and a strong performance from Fele Martinez ensure the film is always bearable.