Reviews for October 7th, 2009
Directed by Margot Benacerraf.
In Spanish with subtitles. This beautifully-shot documentary won the International Critics Award in Cannes back in 1959 and never received a theatrical release until today. Araya, narrated by José Ignacio Cabrujas, focuses on the daily routines of the salt miners and fishermen living and working in Araya, a peninsula in northeastern Venezuela. The sun’s rays glare down on Araya as the workers and villagers sweat from the scorching heat. Their only source of food is fish which the fishermen of the Ortiz family capture each day with a large net that gets torn and needs to be re-woven. The men of the Peredas family mine the salt from the lagoon at night and, the following morning, the Salaz family takes the salt and loads it on trucks. Salt, for the people in Araya, represents “white gold” that yields a lot of money which then is used to buy fish. As the narrator explains, the word “sal” (“Salt” in Spanish) comes from the word “Salario” (Salary). That white gold helps to fuel the Arayan’s economy and their daily sustenance. A huge truck arrives in the village to transport many gallons of much-needed water to Arayans. A woman carries a basket full of fish to sell to local villagers. Those are just some of the many details shown through the film. Director Margot Benacerraf uses very poetic voice-over narration along with the quietly beautiful visuals to capture the essence of what it was like to be living and working in Araya back then. It would have been more insightful , though, if Benacerraf were to dug deeper into the thoughts and feelings of the Arayans by interviewing each of the three families rather than just briefly introducing their names and showing them going about their daily routines. However, images tend to speak louder than words and, in this case, many of the images of Araya’s land and sea as well as of the Arayans working are so rich with sumptuous detail that you’ll often find yourself so engrossed that you’ll forget that those images are actually in black-and-white. At a running time of only 1 hour and 22 minutes, Araya manages to be a quietly powerful, lyrical and visually striking documentary. Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by Milestone Films. Opens at the IFC Center.
Yes Men Fix the World
Directed by Andy Bichlbaum, Mike Bonanno and Kurt Engfehr.
The Yes Men, Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, return once again to pull pranks on organizations in this intermittently funny documentary. They first set up fake, well-designed corporate websites and then just wait for invitations to conferences or TV news shows where they put on a business suit and pretend to be representatives of corporations in order to lampoon their greediness and how the corporations cross moral boundaries to undermine public welfare. For instance, Andy Bichlbaum poses as a Dow Chemical spokesman who announces live on BBC that Dow Chemical will pay $12 billion in restitution for the lives of thousands of Indians who died from a chemical leak in Bhopal, India, over 20 years ago, at a plant belonging to Union Carbide, a current subsidiary of Dow Chemical. Not surprisingly, the Dow stock plummets $2 billion before the BBC discovers that the report was actually a hoax. In another hoax, the Yes Men attend a convention in New Orleans pretending to be spokesmen for HUD and claim that Hurricane Katrina victims won’t be evicted and that the destroyed homes will be rebuilt. Co-directors Andy Bichlbaum, Mike Bonanno and Kurt Engfehr focus too much on the hoax themselves, but not enough on the aftermath, except when the Yes Men eventually travel to Bhopal to observe the Indians’ reactions to the hoax or when they briefly ask residents of New Orleans about their own reactions. After the first hoax, the remaining ones lack the surprise factor, especially if you’re already familiar with The Yes Men from their last documentary from back in 2004. The Yes Men probably have a lot to say about corporate greed, ego and corruption, but they don’t really get a chance to talk here. While their well thought-out hoaxes do keep you somewhat engaged and address those issues while showing the horrors of profit-hungry corporations behind-the-scenes, those issues are only tackled on the surface without enough analysis. Had the Yes Men stopped between hoaxes to discuss what they’ve learned or discovered from the previous hoax, perhaps there’d be more insight. At a running time of 90 minutes, Yes Men Fix the World manages to be intermittently funny and provocative, but it ultimately lacks enough bite, surprises and insight. Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Shadow Distribution. Opens at the Film Forum.