A young, undocumented Syrian musician blends into the multicultural mosaic that is New York City, falls in love with a young woman from Senegal, lives beneath the radar. Then one day he draws the attention of two city police officers for no significant reason and the life he has known is over.
Sound familiar? But no, this story has nothing to do with Donald Trump's crackdown on undocumented immigrants. It's a tale told nearly a decade ago that Jim Palmer, the longtime CU film studies professor, thinks you should see. So, Monday night at the Boedecker Theater at the Dairy Center, Palmer will host a screening of the 2007 film "The Visitor" as part of his "Palmer's Pix" series.
"The series is my attempt to foreground some overlooked, mostly independent films that deserve to be seen and celebrated," Palmer says.
Unfortunately, owing to Palmer's popularity hereabouts and his eclectic taste, the entire series is sold out. But that doesn't mean you can't screen the films on your own. Which is what we did with "The Visitor." And we recommend it. It's available on Amazon's streaming service, among other places.
In his second script, Tom McCarthy ("The Station Agent," "Spotlight") explored the issues that nearly a decade later have climbed to the top of the American agenda: Who are we? What does it mean to be an American? Is "culture" a code word for white people clinging to control of the American narrative, or is it the evolving, mobile mosaic on display every day in New York, Denver and many other great U.S. cities?
The character actor Richard Jenkins earned a best actor nomination for his portrayal of Walter Vale in "The Visitor." He's an aging widower going through the motions of his life — a white American with all the material comforts who has lost his sense of aspiration. Tarek Khalil, the young Syrian musician played by Haaz Sleiman, teaches him to play an African drum. When Khalil is sent to an ICE detention center, his mother (Hiam Abbass) arrives from Michigan and Walter Vale begins to live again.
"This is the best kind of political film because it's personal, intimate, transformative (for Walter Vale) and tragic (for the immigrants)," Palmer wrote to us. "Yes, I wish the audience to understand that we are an immigrant nation, that our cultural richness is about transcending tribalism, that 'America First' is a shortsighted, selfish betrayal of what made and makes America Great Still and not 'Again.'
"Should every American see this film? Yes!"
We're grateful to Palmer for the recommendation, and for the reminder that art can sometimes reach us where political rhetoric cannot. Every generation of native-born Americans has been informed by successive generations of immigrants that "American dream" is not some marketing slogan. It is the aspiration to the previously impossible that a free and welcoming country has offered refugees from horror and hopelessness for more than two centuries.
That's our national identity. The frightened and defensive, the angry and prejudiced, periodically get the upper hand in our politics. At times like these, we're grateful for the works of art that remind us who we are and who we aspire to be.
—Dave Krieger, for the editorial board. Email: email@example.com. Twitter: @DaveKrieger
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