If you’re looking for an easy summer blockbuster to help you beat the heat, maybe avoid the 5th Avenue Cinema this weekend. This week’s double feature is Claire Denis’ 1988 film Chocolat and the 1959 documentary Araya. Both screen in 35mm, at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday.
From an independent filmmaking standpoint, Araya is a towering accomplishment. Produced by two individuals—director Margot Benacerraf and cinematographer Giuseppe Nisoli—the film depicts the lives of a group of Venezuelan salt miners whose tradition and livelihood are on the brink of disappearance as industrialization looms over the horizon. When Venezuela first came under the influence of colonialism in the 16th century, the Spanish put the locals to work in the naturally occuring salt pans of the Araya Peninsula. By the time Araya was made in the late ‘50s, barely any methods for collecting salt had changed for close to 500 years.
Benacerraf and Nisoli expertly capture a community both on the brink of collapse and seemingly frozen in time, doing such good work that the claims of a two-person crew were often met with doubts during the ‘59 Cannes Film Festival. Araya is a heavy film, and not just because of the subject matter; every frame of the documentary feels like it has the weight of generations bearing upon it.
While Chocolat is a more fictional affair, Director Claire Denis based its look, feel, and setting on her childhood in colonial French Africa. Although the film takes place in post-colonial Cameroon, it is largely set in a flashback to its colonial period, telling the story of a young girl named France through whose eyes we see a snapshot of a French Cameroon family dynamic. France struggles to navigate treacherous, largely unspoken social norms as she befriends the family’s African house servant, Protee. On top of this, Protee is the object of desire for France’s young mother, causing tension throughout the household. Racial, sexual and societal tensions are prodded at and explored in depth as France deals with her status as a member of an occupying—often racist—force.
Both films are fantastic depictions of countries we may far too easily write off as third world and the difficulties and tragedies that arise when larger countries move in to take what isn’t theirs.
Like I said, not a feel-good double feature, but a powerful and worthwhile one.
For ticket prices (free admission for PSU students) and other information, visit http://www.5thavecinema.com/simmering/