Friday August 14, 1998
With the warm, joyous "Gadjo Dilo," Algerian-born French filmmaker-composer Tony Gatlif completes his beguiling Gypsy triptych. The series began with his superb "Little Princes" (1982), a tale of the rugged, marginal existence of Gypsies in France, and continued in 1993 with the rapturously beautiful "Latchmo Drom" (Safe Journey), in which he celebrates the sustaining power of music in Gypsy culture as he retraces the migration of the original Gypsies to Europe from India beginning a thousand years ago.
Gatlif fuses the elements of the two previous pictures to create the unique "Gadjo Dilo," which means "crazy outsider." That's what a rural Gypsy community, not far from Bucharest, calls the stranger in its midst, a young Frenchman named Stephane (Romain Duris). Stephane is trying to locate a Gypsy singer whose music was much-loved by his late father. He has encountered Izidor (Isidor Serban), a village chieftain, just as the older man's son Adrjani (Florin Moldovan) has been arrested and taken away by Romanian authorities for either violating a curfew or an alleged theft or both.
Izidor is one of those overwhelming life-force figures whose feelings are close to the surface and quick to erupt. His determination to treat Stephane as a surrogate son overrules his community's wariness over Stephane, to whom they apply the stereotyped negative judgments so often applied to themselves. Amusingly, were Gatlif not of Gypsy descent himself, he might well be criticized for depicting Gypsies as so unrelentingly passionate, fiery and earthy. The point is that he does so with unabashed affection and furthermore suggests that extravagant displays of emotion are ways in which Gypsies have long survived hardship and injustice.
A lot of that emotion is of course poured into their intoxicating music, with which the film overflows; Izidor and his people make their living as musicians, performing in clubs and at weddings and private parties. Their makeshift village is primitive in the extreme, but they seem happy and quickly cast their spell upon Stephane, who is eager to learn their language and record their music (much of it composed by Gatlif himself).
Stephane is also attracted to the beautiful, independent Sabina (Rona Hartner), a talented dancer who left her husband/dance partner in Belgium when he decided he did not want to return home. Initially, Sabina is hostile to Stephane, equating him with the world of Western Europe that lured her husband.
As Stephane wins over Sabina and the community, the film wins us over so captivatingly that it comes as a jolt when the entire community suddenly becomes threatened with savage bigotry.
Duris, who was featured in Cedric Klapisch's delightful "When the Cat's Away," is a sensitive charmer who persuades us that Stephane could embrace such a primitive way of life because he comes to care so deeply for his new friends. Duris' enthusiasm and humor lend balance to the bombastic yet likable Serban, and the lovely Hartner has no trouble at all casting a powerfully seductive spell.
Gadjo Dilo, 1998. Unrated. A Lions Gate Films presentation. Writer-director-composer Tony Gatlif. Producer Doru Mitran. Executive producer Gut Marignane. Cinematographer Eric Guichard. Editor Monique Dartonne. Costumes Michaela Ularu. Art director Brigitte Brassart. In Romany and French, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes. Romain Duris as Stephane. Rona Hartner as Sabina. Isidor Serban as Izidor. Florin Moldovan as Adrjani.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times