It could be a scene out of an old Western. A traveler on a long journey through a desert comes across a mysterious stranger who is on a mission to find and kill the man who killed his father.
But “Jinpa” doesn’t take place in Death Valley, rather in the Tibetan province of Kekexili. And Pema Tseden’s film turns quickly from a revenge movie into something stranger and more mystical.
“Jinpa” screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, 227 State St., as the final film in the museum’s Spotlight Cinema series. While this year’s series has often focused on films about conflict around the world, from Syria (“For Sama”) to Ireland (“Image You Missed”), “Jinpa” ends the season on a note of forgiveness that’s like a balm in troubled times.
The screening is free for museum members, $7 for all others.
Jinpa (played by an actor also called Jinpa) is a lorry driver heading across the Kekexili Plateau. With his leather jacket, cool sunglasses and mane of unruly black hair, Jinpa looks more like a rock star on tour than a working-class driver.
The desert is absolutely featureless in all directions, and yet somehow Jinpa manages to hit a sheep in the middle of the road. Guilt-ridden, he loads the sheep into the back of the truck, intending to bring it to a temple at his next stop to have it properly disposed of.
Next, Jinpa meets a hitchhiker, also named Jinpa (Genden Phuntsok), dressed in ceremonial Tibetan garb with a dagger strapped to his leg. This Jinpa claims that he’s found out the man who killed his father is living in the next town, and he will kill him when they reach their destination.
From here, the film seems to fracture, following the journeys of the two Jinpas — one in color, one in black-and-white. Both men reach the town, and their experiences seem overlaid with each other, one a flashback of the other. But the lines between past and present aren’t clear, and the lines between the two men are just as porous. Could they be the same Jinpa, somehow?
Tseden’s film, based on his own short story, defies easy explanation, and on some level is unsolvable. Better to just bask in the meditative strangeness of the film, beautifully shot and lit. The harsh, pale light of the desert gives way to the warm tones of the village, and a tavern where both men meet a friendly waitress (Sonam Wangmo).
Like a good short story, “Jinpa” doesn’t overstay its welcome at less than 90 minutes, and gives the audience plenty to ponder.