El Rayo, or the “straight story” of an immigrant who returns to his country
by Gonzalo Suárez
- Because of the high unemployment rate in Spain, Hassan Benoudra crosses Andalusia on a tractor to start a new life in his native Morocco
“My decision is made. There is nothing left to do here. What other solution do I have? There is no more work here. I cannot take it anymore. I am going home”: this is how Hassan Benoudra describes his situation in voice over at the beginning of the film Hassan's Way: El Rayo [+see also:
film profile], whilst on the screen, we watch the golden fields of Castile bathed in sunshine. This is 2011, the crisis has never been worse and Hassan, a Moroccan immigrant who entered Spain illegally has decided to take the trip the other way round with the only thing he has been able to purchase for himself by working for thirteen years: an old tractor that he will have to drive from Cózar to Algeciras and then from the ferry to his hometown in Morocco, where he will have to start from scratch. This is the journey depicted by the first fiction feature (although it contains a good dose of reality) by Fran Araújo and Ernesto de Nova, a “straight story” with a minimal budget which takes its time to get started but turns out to be an eye-opening and vivifying experience.
The huge empathy inspired by Hassan and the dark truth of the open screenplay constitute the engine of a story filled with unexpected challenges faced by the protagonist – the civil guard’s road blocks (“It is forbidden to drive around Spain in this kind of vehicle!”), engine failure, police checks while he has no proper identification... This African Alvin Straight is not a stubborn and willful old man but a quiet, sympathetic, tenacious and respectful man who lives the most precarious of lives and whose relationship with the locals, who are his equals (because “Spain is like Morocco. If you don’t work, you don’t eat.”), is sincere and simple. His adventure turns out to be a plea for humility, comprehension and solidarity between those who know each other, and those who don’t, especially since these are decaying times.
It is not surprising that this odyssey has, throughout its tour of Spanish festivals, conquered the heart of the public and critics (after its avant-premiere in San Sebastian, El rayo went through Córdoba, Valladolid, Seville and Albacete. It is currently screening in Segovia and Orense).
(Translated from Spanish)