HASSAN Benoudra, a family man and farmer of Morocco is one of the countless migrant workers of the world, who seek for better employment in countries they perceive to have a more stable economy than their own.
In “El Rayo” (2013, 86 minutes), film directors Fran Araújo and Ernesto de Nova document for us the last of 13 years of exilic employment of a undocumented migrant worker. Benoudra, at 28 years old, had come in a boat from Morocco to a Spain that was then enjoying its economic boom in 2000 until the financial crisis of 2007-2008.
The severity of this crisis affected workers in rural Spain, particularly those like Benoudra who labored in the fields, orchards and vineyards. To augment his meager income, Benoudra did odd jobs among other things as a welder, woodcutter, construction worker, market vendor and janitor. Soon, he realized that whether he’d work in Spain or in Morocco, things would be the same. He says: “I change one country for one that is worse… Here, if you don’t work, you don’t eat.” This brings him to the decision to go back to Morocco bringing with him everything he had ever owned: a second-hand Massey Ferguson tractor he calls “El Rayo,” with which he dreamt of improving his farmwork in Morocco.
Benoudra sets out for home in spite of all the dire warnings of his fellow farm workers, and the obvious difficulties of having to take the countryside roads of southern Spain, one town after another, to the port of Algeciras for the shortest route back to Morocco. The route shows glimpses of the beauty of the Andalusian landscape that is perhaps familiar to the tourist, but this time the journey south is tempered by the hard realities of living in rural Spain.
The film is an intimate documentary of Benoudra’s return home. Alternately called “Hassan’s Way,” the camera follows Benoudra and captures the day-to-day drama of his life on the road back, a quietly heroic journey where he meets memorable ordinary people who are still kind and offer him temporary shelter, a simple meal with lots of laughter, a ride to town in a motorbike, and a reasonable discount from the mechanic for the cost of fixing “El Rayo” along the way.
While the story follows the monomythic pattern of the hero’s journey, Hassan Benoudra’s 600-mile odyssey engages the viewer not because he is larger than life, but because he is as ordinary as we are, but fired up with a steadfast purpose and the necessary stoic wisdom in enduring every inconvenience one at a time. The irony that dawns upon the viewer while watching Hassan driving his tractor at less than 20 miles per hour is that while the pace of the movie can sometimes feel as slow as the tractor, this true story moves sure and straight ahead to what we imagine would be a good homecoming.
“El Rayo” will be shown on Pelicula-Pelikula Spanish Film Festival, Oct. 5-16 at Greenbelt 3 Cinemas, Ayala Center, Makati.