Saturday, June 4, 2011

ARAYA



If you thought a film about a French farm girl and her sainted donkey was exciting, have I got another  movie for you. This one is a "tone poem" about a Venezuelan salt marsh!

I just watched this last week and it is one of the greatest films ever.

Netflix synopsis: Director Margo Benacerraf offers this acclaimed 1959 film that chronicles the harsh existence of Venezuelan laborers who manually recover salt from the tropical marshes of Araya, an ancient salf-producing region in that country. As Bennacerraf documents the harsh daily lives of three families dependent on the salt trade, she also captures the stark, otherworldly beauty of the marshes and the peculiarly lyrical pace of life in Araya.

The little documentary you can watch about Benecerraf herself, who had previously made one 20-minute short (also included), is still alive, and after making this one amazing, award-winning film, never made another, is another treasure. The very year they shot the film, industrialization came to Araya, and the gruesome, grinding, juggernat machines that appear near the end of the film mark the beginning of the end of a centuries-long era and way of life.



Benacerraf, describing the newspaper photo she happened to see that drew her to Araya in the first place: 

"It was a strange picture. Huge pyramids of salt. So I went looking for this place. I wanted to use this fantastic setting, almost unreal, which was the salt marsh [the largest salt marsh in Latin America]. It was like a vision out of 1500 when I arrived here. I was extremely lucky to find such a place."

From the film:

"Yesterday, like today, men make their living from the salt marsh. The baskets they carry on their heads, the "mara," weigh 140 pounds. In this hive of salt, with their hands, with their shovels, with the strength of their arms, the men of Araya have been raising pyramids for 450 years, under the same Sun"...

Benacerraf:
"I wanted to make a short story, what the Italians call a "racconto," a cinematrographic narrative, with all the freedom that I could have as a fiction filmmaker. When the shooting started, I had chosen a poetic realist tone, but above all, the film was poetic. The proof is that the great poet Pablo Neruda loved the movie.

I asked if he would write the commentary. He said, 'I can't write a poem about another poem.' "

2 comments:

  1. Neruda is a genius, and his recommendation carries weight! (Of course, when I say that N is a genius, I don't mean to say that I agree with his unlovely politics.)

    Thank you, Heather, for making these "unknown" gems known to us! I still owe you an immense debt of gratitude for introducing me to Pasolini's film The Gospel acc. to St Matthew. You do good work at this here blog!

    dylan

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  2. It is good to be reminded of the genius of Neruda, whose poems I loved and then abandoned because I detested his atheism and communism. Yet "nothing that is genuinely human fails to raise an echo in [the hearts of the disciples of Christ]", as the Second Vatican Council reminds us. So today I went to the library and checked out a copy of Extravagaria, and I'm happy.

    More evidence, Heather, of your salutary influence. God bless!

    David

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