‘Third World’ films at Walker exhibit first-rate artistry


For most Americans, the so-called “Third World”—that is,cunderdeveloped/over-exploited countries—are reduced to a shorthand ofcimages: shantytowns and starvation, a rejection of modernity and civilcwar. Hosted by the Walker Art Center, the Global Lens film series is a great opportunity to see some of these contries from their own point of view. European filmmakers and producers put up the funds so these remarkable films could be produced and distributed. With budgets well under $1 million, these films feature a consistently high artistic quality that Hollywood’s big budgets often fail to meet. The series screens May 9–20. Here are some of my favorites.

Brazil is a multiracial country that, like the U.S., has gangs and drugs. But, where Hollywood treats these themes as gratuitous blood sport that reinforces racial sterotypes, Lucia Murat’s film Almost Brothers, is a complicated character study. Two boys—Jorginho, who’s black, and Miguel, who’s white—are first drawn together in childhood, by 1950s samba. Their lives diverge as young men during the 1970s dictatorship with Miguel joining the resistance and Jorginho becoming a petty criminal. Reunited in prison, where Jorginho is serving time for robbery and Miguel is a political prisoner, their rediscovered bond fractures. Twenty years later, the two men’s lives are even further apart and their contradicted connection is recreated between their children. Murat briliantly moves back and forth in time: childhood friendship, rendered in lovely sepia tones; prison scenes have a grey cast, present time is bold colors. The musical soundtrack also reflects emotion and time, including Latinized hip-hop. Until Hollywood gets over gansta glorification, Almost Brothers is a film with real depth that
explores economic divides, racism and crime.

Dean Otto, head of the Walker’s Film & Video Department, says there’s a
cinema revolution going on in China, with the use of digital techonology. One could say that the Global Lens series features another kind of
revolution: Many of these films center on women and their challenges
within and against entrenched male authority.

Stolen Life is an example of both revolutions. Made with digital video, Li Shaouhong, creates a disarming love story centered on a lonely
Chinese teenager who’s the first in her family to go college. Alienated from
her family, she’s ripe for the supportive attention from Muyu, a
20-something truck driver she met by chance. Given that American audiences see almost entirely well-off people, it’s actually refreshing to see the working poor as people whose lives are worthy of film. Li’s visual sense
has a gritty intimacy that ranges from the tenderly close to the claustraphobic. But romance takes an unexpected turn that poses painful
questions about reproductive rights and the exploitation of women.
Stolen Life won Best Narrative Feature at the 2005 Tribeca Film. Festival.

Border Cafe comes from Iran and it’s an extraordinary and subtle look at women’s fight for autonomy. Reyhan is a young widow with two small daughters, living on the border with Turkey. In that region, custom
demands that “a widow must remarry, but, never a stranger”—which means marrying her domineering (and already married) brother-in-law, which Reyhan does not want to do. Instead, she hopes to reopen her husband’s cafe. Westen audience might be smug about ‘what a long way, baby” American women have come, but Border Cafe has surprising
resonance for what single mothers and other vulnerable women everywhere face. There’s real suspense with the obstacles put in Reyhan’s path, a runaway Russian girl she shelters, and an attractive Greek truck driver. Reyhan is an inspiring example of female strength in a cultural context that demands female dependence.Border Cafe is a crucial reminder of the necessity of economic independece for women—no matter what country you live in.

One should never miss the chance to see films made by and about
Palestinians. Israel’s occupation serves as simply a backdrop for a
family drama in the film Thirst. A bitterly tenacious man is determined to keep his farm going in a harsh environment. The father-son relationship is torn between moments of solidarity taking wood from Israeli settlements’ forest or putting in an illegal pipe for water and the teenager’s desire for education. Two daughters represent compliance with and shame to family honor. The wife-mother pivots between submission to male authority and opposition to it in defense of her childrens’ dreams. Director Tawlik Abu Wael displays unique cross-cultural artistry with a style reminicient of iconic Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. Silence often speaks louder than words in this stark story that explores tensions in family life that trancend nations.

The Global Lens series includes films from South Africa and Burkina Faso (a former French colony). There’s also an evening of short films from Mexico, Agrentina, India, and China. Global Lens takes you around the world to places you might never go and connects you with universal human
experinces that American media often conceal. Perhaps one form
of resistance to the increasing alienation of top-down corporate globalization is the kind of cultural globalization exemplified in
this wonderful film series.

The Global Lens series runs Tues. May 9 through Sat. May 20 at “Walker Art Center”:http://www.walkerart.org, 1750 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis. For complete schedule call 612/375-7600.