Over the course of his career, writer-director Tony Gatlif has embraced his gypsy
heritage and filmed a feature triptych exploring that culture. The first film was the award-winning
Les Princes (1982), about gypsy life in a Parisian suburb, while the second was the acclaimed
musical history Latcho Drom (1993). Gadjo Dilo (1997), about an foreigner who is
"adopted" by a community completes the trilogy.
Gadjo Dilo (the title translates to "crazy outsider") opens on a bleak wintry landscape
in Romania. A lone figure is seen walking. This is the title character, Stephane (played by
Romain Duris, perhaps best recalled from Chacun cherche son chat/When the Cat's
Away). A Frenchman, he has traveled to Romania to locate a Gypsy singer whose
recordings meant a great deal to his father. He encounters a caravan of gypsy women who
taunt him with obscenities, which he does not understand. Seeking refuge in the nearest
town, he arrives after the curfew and cannot find lodging. In the town center is an older man,
getting drunk because his son has been taken away by the authorities. This is Izidor, a
musician who is more or less the leader of a nearby gypsy community. The two bond over
a bottle and Izidor brings Stephane to his home, treating him as a surrogate son. The
community warily approaches the Frenchman and treat him in much the same way gypsies
are treated outside their world: they consider him to be a thief or someone there to steal their
children or attack their women. Over the course of the film, though, Stephane gradually finds
his place in this new society.
Gatlif loosely based the story for this film on a colleague, a musicologist, from
Latcho Drom who went to Egypt and ended up living with the gypsy community there.
Approaching the material in a semi-documentary fashion, he shot in sequence allow Duris
the opportunity to develop relationships as filming progressed. Gatlif wanted to capture the
actors' reactions and that approach gives the film a certain immediacy. There is also a
timelessness about Gadjo Dilo that is reflective of the culture as well. As with Latcho Drom,
music plays an important (albeit lesser) role in the film. Izidor is a musician and Sabina,
the woman who catches Stephane's eye, is a singer and dancer. She too is somewhat of
an outsider, having abandoned a husband in Belgium and demonstrating a willful streak —
she is often at loggerheads with her father and with the other villagers. The feelings of
separateness are what draw the two together and there is remarkable chemistry between
Duris and actress Rona Hartner. (All the more so as Hartner claimed they did not really
get along off-camera).
Gadjo Dilo has a rhythm and pacing that is slow at times, but it is a deliberate choice
on the director's part: slowly allowing the audience a peak into this fascinating world. Be
forewarned, some of the language is crude and coarse and the villagers seem to converse
only in shouts (Izidor in particular). That said, Gatlif managed to find a way to tie the events
of the film together in a devastating manner that also offered hope. This a haunting glimpse
at a world that few have seen.
|© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.