Harsh truths, unconventional styles on display at this festival of diverse films

 Ziad Kalthoum’s “Taste of Cement” screens Saturday at Studio Cinema in Belmont as part of the Global Cinema Film Festival of Boston.
Global Cinema Film Festival of Boston
 Ziad Kalthoum’s “Taste of Cement” screens Saturday at Studio Cinema in Belmont as part of the Global Cinema Film Festival of Boston.

The third annual Global Cinema Film Festival of Boston is presenting more than 30 fiction and nonfiction features and shorts (March 8-11) that explore diverse cultures, confront painful realities, and affirm our common humanity. Screening at the Studio Cinema in Belmont, the lineup includes two documentaries that transcend genre conventions to express the truth about their subjects more vividly.

At the end of Bernadett Tuza-Ritter’s “A Woman Captured” (screens Thursday at 8 p.m. — including a discussion with the director — and Saturday at 4:10 p.m.), an epigraph states that 22,000 people are held in slavery in Hungary, 1.2 million across Europe, and 49 million worldwide. Those statistics resonate after seeing the suffering endured by Marish, a Hungarian woman kept as a domestic slave by Eta, a tyrannical matriarch, and her hideous children and grandchildren. After 10 years of working for Eta 20 hours a day (the circumstances behind her enslavement are not specified), Marish, at 52, could pass for 70. A cast on her hand indicates that the abuse she suffers is physical as well as verbal and psychological.

Tuza-Ritter manages to gain intimate access to Marish’s life by paying Eta and agreeing to maintain her anonymity. But, moved by Marish’s plight, the filmmaker becomes part of the story and collaborates with Marish in a plan to escape. Then the documentary turns into a kind of suspense thriller, engaging the viewer but also raising ethical questions of whether this vicarious sharing of Marish’s ordeal itself may be a kind of exploitation.


 Ziad Kalthoum’s “Taste of Cement” (screens Saturday at 7 p.m. — Kalthoum and the cinematographer Talal Khoury will be present for a discussion — and March 11 at 5:30 p.m.) engages more in poetic avant-garde cinema than straight documentary to tell the story of construction workers who have left the rubble of the raging internecine conflict in Syria to rebuild Beirut in Lebanon, a country whose own civil war ended not long ago. 

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They sleep on pallets in the basement of the skyscraper under construction and emerge in the morning to labor on the building far above. The spectacular views of the city and of the Mediterranean below contrast with their numb resignation. At dusk they descend like Morlocks into their damp, concrete cellar rooms (there is a 7 p.m. curfew in Beirut for Syrian workers), where they watch TV news reports of the death and destruction in their country and look at photos on their phones of the devastation in the cities where their families still live.

A shattering montage intercuts shots of the skeletal Beirut buildings under construction and of the destroyed structures in Aleppo that mirror them. It is followed by footage taken from the turret of a tank rolling through seemingly endless ruins. These images are devoid of people, but not those of the aftermath of a bombardment at night, when desperate people use their bare hands to remove rubble and free the bodies of children underneath. 

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Peter Keough can be reached at