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So the second film I have seen at the 2009 London Film Festival, was
bizarrely (for a film made in 1959), the UK premiere. This movie played
at Cannes in 1959, but since then pretty much disappeared, at least in
the English language world. It's a Venezuelan film, made by a lady
called Margot Benacerraf, she made this and one other film before
ceasing film-making entirely and entering into the cultural bureaucracy
of Venezuela, founding for example the Cinemateca Nacional.
The film is shot on the peninsula of Araya, which is basically dead land abutting onto a salt marsh and then the sea. The land doesn't support anything, there's practically no rainfall, most of the land is not much different from baked bones and dust. There is in one part of the peninsula what is described as a forest, but is too puny too justify that term, arid brittle branches primordially struggling to live. For the inhabitants of the peninsula this is their only supply of wood.
So in Araya, there are only really two professions, you're either a fisherman or a salinero (salt miner). The salineros cut mine from the salt marshes and bring it to the shore, they get 50 cents for a 140 pound basket of salt, which they have to crush to a powder and clean. They do all this without the aid of machinery. Because salt is toxic when handled day in day out they often get ulcers all down their exposed skin.
It's a very simple monotonous life, and whole families are involved in the human conveyor process of bringing the Arayan salt to where it can be loaded for delivery.
It's shot very well, and very poetically, there's also a voice-over that follows the movie the whole way through. I think the voice-over occasionally became more sombre and poetical than the subject matter demanded. I think there's also an extent where it's a false documentary, at least I was feeling suspicious about that, it seems a lot of the scenes are being done for the camera. They film the entire movie almost without reference to machinery, only to have it appear quite conspicuously at the end. So the movie well may have been shot as a time capsule to preserve the way of life that had gone before pre-machinery and was coming to an end. It would be better I think if they had maybe more conspicuously framed it like that at the start. That's a little unfair, I mean the way they did it was good, but it felt deceptive.
Whilst some of the poetry is a little overwrought, there was a great moment where this woman, who was in charge of the scales had her eyes described as being hard and bright like the salt, and then when she is back in the pueblo, they are soft and bright. The poet got that spot on, her eyes did look exactly like that.
The way the cemetery is decorated in the movie is really poignant as well. So I think this film is well worth watching. It has recently been restored by Milestone, and I think there is a fundraising effort going on in the US at the moment, lead by Margot Benacerraf (still alive!). It may well be released on DVD by Milestone in R1 over the next couple of years.
This is a very interesting documentary about a day in the life of two
families of peasants in northern Venezuela. It records how they inherited
their work from their parents and grandparents and how they extract the salt
from sea water in order to sell it to survive in a very far and isolated
part of the world. I think this is one of the best latin american
documentaries ever done, and one of the best I've ever seen in my
"Araya" is a movie that makes you want to cry... it is so beautiful in its black and white and its simpleness that it's an equivalent of Neorealism but without the sadness. This movie shared the Cannes Award with none other than "Hiroshima, mon amour", althought it has had less luck in becoming a well known film. Its director founded the Cinemateca Nacional (a place where one can see many good old movies) and is also President of Fundavisual Latina, so although she hasn't directed anyome she continues to work on cinema.
A Venezuelan documentary about the salt pyramids in a place called Araya and those who made their living there. Trust us, whatever job you're doing right now, it is nothing compared to what these people have to put up with. They toil from day to night, with little payment and in the scorching sun. They were resigned to their fate since childhood and it is the only thing they know. The director chose to shoot like a fly on the wall (in this case, on a salt pyramid) what they actually do in a day. After you watch this, you'll appreciate your job and life like you never did before. It is an affirmation of the human ability to take on what seems impossible and turn it into an amazing possibility. The cinematography in black and white was illuminating too. Take a chance and give this a try. You won't regret it and might even learn a thing or two about human being's indomitable perseverance.
This documentary-style, relatively short feature film is poignant,
stunning in it's simplicity and rich in its humane impulses; it
features actual workers in an almost impossibly hostile semi-desert
bordering on the ocean that has served as a salt mine for over 450
years; the huge pyramids of salt are impressive, but even more so are
the men who climb them with 140 pound baskets of salt, dumping them on
top and receiving a few coins in their palms each time--and the women
at the base of the pyramids who bag and tie the salt in hideously hot
and dry climate.
While this group produces much of the money for the locals in their adobe villages, another group produces the food, venturing out in a large boat every morning hopefully to return with nets full of fish, as they have for hundreds of years. There is a strong sense of community that binds these people, and filmmaker Margot Benacerraf, instead of having anyone employ dialogue, follows her subjects with mostly poetic narration and a strong musical soundtrack.
There is actually a conclusion, and how the viewer reacts to it will certainly reflect attitudes toward modernization and the erasure of ancient traditions; this is a remarkably visual film, stunning to look at, whether from the top of a salt pyramid or bending down to a simple grave decorated with seashells in lieu of the flowers which cannot grow in this part of Venezuela. This is a valuable film document of a disappeared occupation; be sure to watch the "extra" which, fifty years later, follows up on some of the original workers.
The Araya film made in 1959 by Venezuelan filmmaker Margot Benacerraf allows us to reflect on the importance of this place, not only in the twentieth century, but for all seasons , at the beginning of the movie there is a narrative about what happened when, during the colonization , these salt were discovered , and the incredible beauty of this finding was disclosed to the Spanish monarchy , for this a fortification was built in this place, to protect it from invaders. Throughout this film the hard work in the salt is evident , working hours of workers, their dedication , skill and sacrifice shown . In the movie the lives of three families is narrated: Salazar, Pereda and Ortiz, these people are intertwined and we can see how difficult it was to work in the salt mines in the 1950s, pictures of the currency used to pay shown the salt workers often replace the official currency and could buy them in warehouses and other establishments in the region,is considered cultural heritage of Venezuela and a classic of world cinema, this movie should not be seen as a documentary because it was not the intention of Benacerraf, her goal was to tell the story of the people and their work in the salt mines,it is filmed in three locations: Araya, El Rincon and Manicuare and people who appear in the film belong to these places and they are not actors.This film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1959 , the talented Margot Benacerraf is an example trump international scopes , she became the salt of Araya a known and important place elsewhere in the world , she also honored and immortalized through the film work of employees of the salt , worthy of respect and admiration . She created the National Cinemateque in 1966 giving the necessary importance to the art of cinema.This movie is amazing and really inspirational .
Margot Benacerraf made this documentary about the hard and tedious life of workers in Venezuela who dry out and then transport salt from their marshes. It's backbreaking work and goes on day after day with no end. Not surprisingly, it makes for some VERY tedious and dull viewing. What makes it even worse is that the film often is very artsy (such as the first seven minutes of the film during which there is no narration AND the camera seems to focus on anything but the salt or the workers). Certainly this is not a film to be enjoyed by the average viewer (they'll hate it) but is best seen as an ethnographic documentary about a tough way of life back in 1959. I have no idea if this sort of work continues to this day. Nice camera-work (when it's not focusing on clouds, cacti or other irrelevant stuff) but also a film that defies my ability to give it a numerical score. And, it also bored me to tears.
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