‘Global Lens’ brings cultures into focus

The Walker Art Center’s series features films from developing countries

Don M. Burrows

Films from developing nations can illustrate the challenges and promise its cultures face.

A series of such films – called the Global Lens – begins today at the Walker Art Center.

The countries in which the featured films were born have undergone cultural changes in recent years. And each movie addresses social, economic and political issues facing its primary audiences, according to a news release from the Walker.

“Daughter of Keltoum”

This is certainly the case with the series’ first offering, Mehdi Charef’s “Daughter of Keltoum,” showing tonight. It is one of three films to be shown with free admission and an introduction by local faculty. “Daughter of Keltoum” will be shown in Arabic and French with English subtitles.

Rallia is Keltoum’s daughter. She was raised in Switzerland and returns to Algeria to confront the birthmother who abandoned her. In fact, she wants more than simply to confront her, vowing on several occasions to kill her. When she strides off an Algerian bus into her birth village, she quickly meets Keltoum’s father and sister. Her cropped hair and Western ways immediately cause conflict. Rallia’s disconnection with her birth country and her aunt’s steadfast and often frenzied devotion to local customs serves as the overarching contrast of the film.

Rallia (Cylia Malki) is frustrated with the patriarchal forces at work in Algeria, and much of the film focuses on her defiance of restrictions on female behavior – even in the face of threatened violence. Some of these episodes are comical, and perhaps disturbing, to a Western audience.

But the true conflict toward the film’s climax is between Rallia and her aunt Nedjma (Baya Belal), whose continual admonitions to follow local mores sparks a temporary disunion of the two travelers. “You remind me of the people here, and it makes me sick,” Rallia spits at Nedjma in one of the film’s more heartbreaking scenes.

Nedjma proves to be a product of her small village, unacquainted with modern devices as routine as a gas pump, and her own family members say she is insane. Nevertheless, the two come together ever more intimately in their quest to find Keltoum, who has taken a job at a hotel in the city of El Kantara. It is not until the very end that we learn what Rallia has journeyed to discover: namely, the situations surrounding her birth that provide the film’s unexpected and heart-warming finale.

“Kabala”

Similar issues are explored in Assane Kouyate’s “Kabala,” set in a small village in Mali and slated for a free showing Sept. 29. Here, much like Rallia, Hamalla quickly becomes an outsider in his village. He fails his trial by fire and soon learns that he is a local woman’s illegitimate son.

Continually called a “bastard” by locals, Hamalla (Modibo Traore) leaves the village and spends almost four years working as a well-digger. When the radio informs Mali that a dozen villages are suffering from cholera, and that his village, Kabala, is without clean water because of a dried-up well, he sets off for home again to help.

His help is not wanted, however, thanks to a sacred custom that believes the well to be hallowed by the ancestors. His first foray into the well is met with

rebuke, something resolved only by his father’s promise that he will make the appropriate sacrifices to appease the sprits.

The villagers’ devotion to their beliefs is continually cast against the need to “listen to reason” so the well can be fixed. Their beliefs are interspersed with several episodes providing cultural context. These bits offer a glimpse of views regarding arranged marriages, the caste system and the religious solutions to medical conditions.

In one particularly humorous and fascinating chapter, the villain Seriba (Fily Traore) is struck by impotence. The local shaman and witch contend to break and restore the curse shrinking his attempts to consummate his marriage.

The conflict between indigenous culture and modernization is reconciled at film’s end without undermining either’s importance, and the conclusion is a joyous one.

Both “Daughter of Keltoum” and “Kabala” succeed in fulfilling the Global Lens Series’ objective: Each narrative both engages and gives insight to its respective society.