In those days, going to Araya was like going to the moon. After an arduous journey, I caught my first glimpse of Araya one afternoon about five o’clock. I saw a gigantic colonial castle in all its immense solitude, abandoned to those terrible deserts, and illuminated by an intense, glowing light. Then came those enormous salt peaks with their fantastic dimensions. It was as if the five centuries since the arrival of the Europeans had not perceptibly altered Araya’s way of life. The residents of Araya still made ceramics without using a wheel. They still used the same millenarian methods to fish and to harvest salt. Yet, everything was also about to be violently, irremediably transformed. Within six months, the salt operation was to be taken over by machines. I decided that I wanted to tell this story.
When the film was screened no one believed that we had only been a two-person crew. “What about the crane shots?” they asked. We had simply taken advantage of a construction crane that had been left on a building site. We would go up in it together, fighting against the wind. It was as heroic as it was fortuitous. Passion, I think, makes many things possible. We often filmed all day and then went out at night to collect sounds. Each of the families has a theme song. We would record this local music at night, in people’s huts. Or the sound of the sea, because I wanted the sea to have its echo throughout the film so the viewer feels its intensity, which is ever-changing.
There we were, Truffaut, Resnais and I in competition in Cannes with The 400 Blows, Hiroshima mon amour and Araya. The giants were also there: Buñuel with Nazarín and Rossellini with India. Glauber Rocha wrote a beautiful interview and years later told me that while Araya had no real consequence in Venezuelan cinema, in Brazil, it really did influence the Cinema Novo and him in particular. On 15 May of 1959, Cannes festival awarded me, and Venezuelan cinema, the coveted International Critics Award, which I had the honour of sharing with Hiroshima mon amour. Even today, the recollection of those days of anxiety and happiness moves me deeply.
The 2K restoration of Araya used the original French-language interpositive from 1960 and a dupe negative made in the 1990s as well as the Spanish optical track and 3-track mag sound preserved at LTC laboratories in France. Restoration enabled the reconstruction of a scene in reel 1B that had been cut out of the negative by mistake decades ago without Benacerraf’s knowledge. A new internegative of the section had to be created from the interpositive so that the film could be complete for the first time since its original release.
Cast and Credits
Scen.: Margot Benacerraf. F.: Giuseppe Nisoli. M.: Margot Benacerraf, Pierre Jallaud, Francine Grübert. Mus.: Guy Bernard. Int.: famiglia Pereda (lavoratori alla raccolta notturna del sale), famiglia Ortiz (pescatori), famiglia Salazar (lavoratori alla raccolta diurna del sale), José Ignacio Cabrujas (voce narrante). Prod.: Caroni Films C.A., Films de l’Archer. DCP. Bn.
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