Metaphor alert: The Croatian protagonist of All for Free (Sve Daba), one of the films in the traveling series known as “Global Lens,” grieves the violent deaths of his buddies by taking his humanitarian show on the road—rolling his tavern on wheels from town to town and giving away drinks to all comers, young and old.
Alas, All for Free (May 7 at 9 p.m. and May 10 at 7 p.m.) isn’t among the Walker’s complimentary screenings this year (those are on Thursday nights), but you get my drift: The movie’s bartending Goran (Rakan Rushaidat) could be nicknamed Global after the series that, like him, dispenses thirst-quenching culture to those in need.
Established by the Bay Area-based Global Film Initiative in 2002 as a response to the slow decapitation of developing-world cinema in the U.S. (the violent death of a buddy, you might say), “Global Lens” wheels its cart to the Walker this week as part of a year-long tour that has included stops at the Museum of Modern Art and the Seattle International Film Festival, and will continue on to more than a dozen other locations from Palm Springs to Green Bay.
Minneapolis, thanks largely to the M-SPIFF‘s Al Milgrom and crew, hasn’t been nearly as parched as most U.S. cities when it comes to foreign-language film libation from beyond the West, but that doesn’t mean All for Free et al. isn’t a gift. Indeed, the tight focus of “Lens,” with one picture from each of a mere 10 countries, lends far more easily than the mammoth M-SPIFF to thematic extrapolation.
Thus allow me to summarize the views from Croatia, China, India, Iran, Argentina, and the Philippines: “ The market for earthenware has crashed!”—or so it is said in Opera Jawa (May 11 at 3 p.m. and May 17 at 9 p.m.), justly hailed in January by the Village Voice‘s soon-to-be-former film critic Nathan Lee as a “ surrealist Indonesian pomo-folkloric/funkadelic musical-slash-avant-garde pop-and-lock revolutionary romance-slash-Hindu song-and-dance-installation art extravaganza” and a “ nonpareil Ramayana boogie-down gong drum with a tembang gamelan xylophone huzzah and super-tight moves on the wayang orang tip.”
Word yo, what he said—before the market for adjectives crashed, if not that for film crit in all of inkdom. My point here isn’t so much to sell you on the notion of wickety-wickety-wordwiggin’ Lee as an undeserving victim of new times (takes one to know one, perhaps), but to suggest that the age-old question of hinterland distribution (“ How will it play in Peoria?”) is relatively easy to answer these days, what with the market being both global and glum. Ye olde boogie-down gong drum could well beat even in Palm Springs–or anywhere an American can barely afford a “ Global” ticket when they’re not being given away. (Now’s the time to mention that the Chinese Luxury Car is free at the Walker on May 8; the ride will cost you on May 18).
The title character of El Custodio (May 9 at 7 p.m. and May 14 at 7 p.m.) is fortunate enough to be gainfully employed–as bodyguard to a well-off politician. But he’s also an outsider, as ingeniously articulated by director Rodrigo Moreno in a film-long succession of shots that place the custodian on the periphery of the inner circle, away from the conversation. Taxi driver Travis Bickle would recognize him immediately as God’s lonely man, if you catch my meaning. Yet Moreno’s mapping of the separation between have and have-not remains cinematic not in terms of auteurist allusion (Godard and Scorsese can keep their trademark Alka-Seltzer zooms), but of spatial relationships in the frame and on the soundtrack. When the custodian eventually bridges those gaps, the moment–albeit rough–comes as a relief. (Well, sorta.)
More notes from underground: The Bet Collector (May 10 at 9 p.m. and May 16 at 9 p.m.) makes book on the seedy sides of Manila, where a quickie mart-owning mom must mix with numbers-runners to stay flush. And, though more upbeat than Bet, The Fish Fall in Love (May 11 at 1 p.m. and May 16 at 7 p.m.), from Iranian director Ali Raffi, finds another businesswoman forced into dirty work–cooking for the former flame who would extinguish her restaurant.
That both Fish Fall and Bet Collector are screening free for students (on the mornings of May 16 and 14, respectively) proves the worthy investment of “ Global Lens” in cross-cultural education. But the series, to its credit, doesn’t appear naive about the counterintuitive challenges of giving goodness away for nothing. Goran’s very first customer in All for Free is a Croatian grade-schooler who, when offered juice at no charge, laments that the generous bartender doesn’t have “ the white one” and walks away. Sorry kids, no Speed Racer on this track. But if Luxury Car doesn’t rev your motor, I don’t know automobiles.