A goat gets mixed up with a South African gang. An educated Algerian woman treks through the desert to find her unknown mother. A Lebanese girl longs for warm contact with an Israeli soldier guarding a checkpoint. And raucous sexual jokes are communicated via megaphones by chador-enveloped Arab women across barbed-wire borders. Edgy world-cinema narratives don’t often get a place at local multiplexes, but they are finding a regular spot in your home theater, courtesy Global Film Initiative’s Global Lens series November 20 through January 20 on Link TV. A week-by-week guide to the series, which runs through January 15, follows.
November 20: The anguished cry of a mother—"What is this religion that allows them to kill people?"—echoes across Middle Eastern borders in Rachida, a moving tale about the fate of an Algerian teacher who was shot for refusing to set off a suicide bomb near her school. A first film by Yamina Bachir Chouikh, it follows Rachida’s fate as she exiles herself to a village school only to encounter devastation and despair there, along with the courage of undaunted kids who continue to flock to class.
November 27: In Luxury Car, the lined face of Wu You Cai is unforgettable as the professor who was forced to quit Wuhan University because of his anti-revolutionary remarks. He leaves his village teaching job to try to find his son before the youth’s mother dies. But instead, he joins the tens of thousands who have lost contact with their children and finds a hopeless pregnant daughter. Director Wang Chao throws a rare spotlight on chaos and brutality in today’s China.
December 4: The exquisite Rallia in Daughter of Keltoum learns the hard way how the relentless search for water dominates family relationships in the drought-stricken mountains of Algeria. Joined by her seemingly disturbed aunt, she is trying to find the mother who abandoned her at birth, but is shocked to observe the subjugation of women everywhere. Director Mehdi Charef’s empathy for women is apparent at every turn in the road.
December 11: The life of Marta, a frumpy, loyal manager in a Montevideo sock factory, is changed when her dull and sullen boss Jacobo asks her to pose as his wife when his lively brother Herman arrives from Brazil for the unveiling of their mother’s gravestone, a Jewish tradition. As Marta blossoms under Herman’s attention, the question is: How permanent will her transformation be? Whisky is lovely film co-directed by Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll of Uruguay.
December 18: There is humor in The Kite’s contrast between Arab women speaking frankly about sex in a Lebanese village just released from Israeli annexation and the Jewish soldiers still on duty at a border checkpoint. But just as a Lebanese kite drifts heedlessly onto the Israeli side of a barbed wire fence, there is a tenuous desire on the part of both groups to reach across artificial boundaries and find a human connection. That need is urgent for 16-year old Lamia, who must cross the border to marry a man she has never met and who is equally reluctant to consummate the marriage. Just so, fortune changed for Lebanese director Randa Chahal Sabbag, who studied film in France and whose second feature, Sand Screens, a 1991 black comedy about the Lebanese Civil War, was censored and brought death threats against her family. By 2004, she was awarded with the nation’s highest honor for her contributions to Lebanon.
December 25 In Dam Street, 16-year old Xiao Yun is pregnant and she and her boyfriend are expelled from school. The baby is given up for adoption. Ten years later, while singing in a shabby riverside town, she has a love affair with a married man and her only friend is a little boy. Sadly, the script fails to make her fate very interesting. (12-25)
January 1: A rare and satirical look at South Africa in Max and Mona, brings trouble galore for Max Bua, who has an inherited talent for mourning, but leaves his village to study medicine in Johannesburg. However he has a bleating goat named Mona at his side. Instead of becoming gourmet goat fricassee for a wedding, Mona’s underfoot everywhere, including the bar where Max’s Uncle Norman figures out how to make a lot of money using Max’s gift for mourning at funerals. Max becomes known as the "King of Tears" while Mona chews her way through bags of drugs in Norman’s bar and is kidnapped by a gangster named Razor who wields a mean one. Well, believe it or not, writer-director Teddy Mattera provides plenty of laughs along the way and a happy ending, too.
January 8: When 9-year old Eugenia has to sing "Happy Birthday" to herself by candlelight because her mother (the actress and co-director Vera Fogwill) in Argentina’s Kept and Dreamless is too stoned to remember, it’s a pathetic occasion. All the relationships around Eugenia—her lazy and pregnant mother, Florencia, Sara, the neighbor who sometimes cares for her while looking for dope, Celina, the rich woman who calls herself Florencia’s best friend—are deftly drawn by Fogwell and her co-director Martin Desalvo.
January 15 Writer/director Ali Raffi weaves a delicious Iranian tale around a small, popular restaurant on the shores of the Caspian Sea in The Fish Fall in Love, which played the SFFS Screen at the Sundance Kabuki this past November. Atieh, the proprietor who is passionate about the food she serves, is shocked when Aziz, a former lover, shows up after 20 years with a plan to close the restaurant. She dishes up his favorite foods to dissuade him—and it’s all a very tasty dish indeed.
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