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ARAYA (director/writer: Margot Benacerraf; screenwriter: Pierre Seghers; cinematographer: Giuseppe Nisoli; editors: Pierre Jalluad/ Francine Grübert; music: Guy Bernard; cast: narrated by José Ignacio Cabrujas; Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Henry Nadler; Milestone Films; 1959-Venezuela/France-in Spanish with English subtitles)
“A Robert Flaherty type of film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Milestone Films releases the long lost documentary that shared the critics’ prize at Cannes in 1959 with “Hiroshima Mon Amour.” Writer-director Margot Benacerraf (“Reverón”) presents a Robert Flaherty type of film, one that is beautifully restored and is fascinating to observe such a simplistic lifestyle depicted in the 20th century.

Araya is a barren peninsula located in northern Venezuela, that since the 1500s has been a rich source of salt being exported. It’s also the home to fishermen.

The film chronicles one day in the life of the large Peredas family going through the arduous daily task of cutting the salt in the marshes, carting it onto tall salt pyramids, drying it in the sun and before it rots working fast to carry it off on baskets perched on their heads, and then packing it for delivery on ships. It’s a tough life for those who earn their meager living mining salt, as all they seem to do is sleep, eat, work and raise a family. Their ancient way of life is depicted in a lyrical way as a romantically doomed one, whereby machines, dump trucks and explosives are the impending technology that will alter this way of life that has been going on uninterrupted for some 500-years.

There’s a gabby baritone-voiced narrator, José Ignacio Cabrujas, who tells us about the harsh conditions, the uncomfortable heat, the backbreaking manual work, and the monotony on the island. The camera offers some lofty shots of waves, the desolate craggy and sandy landscape, and lots of stunning b&w images of the marshes and the people in action. It’s arthouse lyrical and compelling viewing for those who like to see an ancient way of life captured on film before it disappears, otherwise it has little to say about such an excruciating way of life but what is obvious. Yet it kept me interested throughout.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”