Araya (say ‘arayja’) is another remarkable rediscovery by the patron saints of orphan masterpieces, Dennis Doros and Amy Heller at Milestone Films, whose recent revivals include Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep and Kent Mackenzie’s The Exiles, the latter shown to acclaim at last year’s LFF. Araya is one of only two films made by Venezuelan director Margot Benacerraf (founder, in 1966, of her country’s Cinemateca Nacional), whose picture shared the International Critics’ Prize with Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima mon amour at Cannes in 1959 and then vanished, to re-appear only spasmodically, seen by few, like the Flying Dutchman. The 50 years of neglect is baffling, for Araya is a unique achievement of Latin-American cinema and a film of profound beauty and technical skill. Described by Benacerraf as a ‘fictionalised documentary’, it is a lyrical but harshly authentic portrait of a remote Caribbean peninsula in northern Venezuela, one of the most barren regions of the world, ravaged by corrosion, where the inhabitants’ survival is wholly dependent on the produce of the sea: salt and fish. The film ostensibly follows the arduous daily activities of three families over 24 hours. The intense black-and-white photography (by Giuseppe Nisoli) is stunning, the quotidian detail fascinating, the editing hauntingly good, and the film as a whole both disturbing and moving. The restoration work, by experienced archivist Scott MacQueen, is painstakingly and uncompromisingly excellent. —bfi
Margot Benacerraf (born August 14, 1926) is a Venezuelan director born in the city of Caracas, but who made her studies of cinema in the city of Paris, getting to graduate as the IDHEC (Institut des hautes études cinématographiques). Both her two most known films are documentary films: Reverón, work that illustrates the life of this well-known Venezuelan painter Armando Reverón, and Araya, which portrays the day to day work of the workers of the salt mines of Araya, a city in the East of Venezuela. She has been a great collaborator of the Venezuelan cinema, getting to be founding from Nacional Film library in 1966, and getting to direct it by three years consecutive. Also participated in the Board of directors of Ateneo de Caracas, and in 1991, with the breath of the writer and patron of the Latin American cinema Gabriel García Márquez, created Latin Fundavisual, foundation in charge to promote the Latin American audio-visual art in Venezuela. Between the prizes and… read more
I saw this at the Harn Museum. It was almost fetishizing poverty, I thought. It didn't, and maybe couldn't, understand poverty from a standpoint of exploitation, but only sought to look at the poorer class as "another way of life," which I just don't understand. Plus, Benacerraf, in neglecting exploitation could only really look at things superficially, hence extreme attention she gave to the laborer's bodies.
film is also art and not necessarily a vehicle for marxist meditation. and in its quality of art, it can appeal to senses and not wear the tendentious robe of a professor of ethics. centuries of western art described the sufferings of martyrs and of jesus and in most of the cases the feelings inspired were not those of horror or revolt, but of elation in front of beauty. they were both a document and a formal statement. can you blame Murillo for fetishizing poverty? why make film fill a gap that should be filled by political, sociological, philosophical debate, why make it the sole trumpeteer of the revolution? it's Benjamin's view, but does it have to be like that? in Romania, we have Mircea Veroiu, who failed being distributed and was cast to oblivion because he was accused of "calophilia", excessive concentration on the esthetical aspect of the movie, than on the "message". he was caught in a crossfire by both communists and anti-communists, and is the least influential of the directors that helped form the new wave of romanian film, which is extremely unfair i think. to me, Araya is a great film, despite its being not politicized. politics that intrude through the gates of emotions is called 'demagogy', as far as i remember.
"Margot Benacerraf, now in her 80s, only ever made one feature-length film," begins Josef Braun, "but that film remains so extraordinary, so