It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
To be born here is to be born into hell. That must have happened for more than 300 years, because no one would ever want to come to live here. "Araya" tells the story of life on the remote, barren Araya peninsula of Venezuela, where Spanish conquistadors found salt about 1550. Salt was treasured in Europe, to the misfortune of those whose lives were devoted to it.
This astonishing documentary, so beautiful, so horrifying, was filmed in the late 1950s, when an old way of life had not yet ended. It was the belief of the filmmaker, Margot Benacerraf, that the motions of the salt workers became ritualized over the decades, passed down through the generations, and that here we could see the outcome of the endless repeating of arduous tasks that would destroy others.
The salt cake is taken up from the floor of a shallow marsh, loaded into flat-bottomed wooden boats, broken up, carted onto land in wheelbarrows and loaded into 120-pound baskets to be balanced on the heads of workers who trudge up the side of an ever-growing pyramid to deposit it. At the top, a man with a rake shapes each mound into a towering, geometrically perfect form. Now it is ready to be hauled away in trucks.
The workers, bronzed by the sun, all muscle and sinew, work in a blazing sun in a land where nothing grows. Food comes from the sea and from corn meal that is carted in. They live in small rude shacks. They get their water from a tank truck. Some work all day. Some work all night. Such is their life.