Margot Benacerraf's extraordinary Venezuelan documentary, among the finest ever made, shared the 1959 International Critics Prize at Cannes with Alain Resnais's Hiroshima, mon amour and then disappeared. Not until now, 50 years later, has it shown in the United States.
Be grateful that Araya is here, in an exquisitely restored print, with images of struggling Venezuelan peasants as luminous as the Mexican photographs of Edward Weston. Araya, a forlorn peninsula in Northern Venezuela, is a century-after-century Hades; the people are all either downtrodden salt miners or impoverished fishermen, living in a desert without water or vegetation, each generation repeating by rote the dreadful existence of the one before.
Benacerraf never alludes to the bosses far away in the cities, those who profit from these eternally wasted lives. But this great movie, reminiscent of Robert Flaherty's Man of Aran, Luis Buñuel's Land Without Bread, and Hiroshi Teshigahara's fictional classic Woman in the Dunes, does wonder aloud, via voiceover, about Jehovah's Old Testament pledge of fruit-bearing trees to the people of earth. Not on Araya, the Land That God Forgot.
At the MFA, December 17-20