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[whitespace] Gadjo Dilo
Rom If You Want To: Romain Duris and Rona Hartner make Gypsy music on the road in 'Gadjo Dilo.'

'Gadjo Dilo' delves into Gypsy life

By Richard von Busack

TONY GATLIF'S follow-up to his Latcho Drom is a far more satisfactory film. Here, you have more of an insider's view of life among the Romany (Gypsies) of Eastern Europe. Here also, you have a narrative. The music was hypnotic in Latcho Drom, but the lack of some sort of narrative turned Gatlif's images into so much wallpaper. The title, Gadjo Dilo, has been translated, euphemistically, as "Crazy Foreigner." The film trafficks in a few received ideas about the Rom, especially notions about the lustiness of a nation that, in real life, has more sexual taboos than the Mormons. But the character Sabina (the vixenish Rona Hartner) is an outsider among her own family, and she has enough of a past that her romance with one of the dreaded foreigners isn't too much of a stretch of the imagination.

Stéphane (Romain Duris) is a Rom-speaking Frenchman journeying on foot to find Nora Luca, a woman who recorded a favorite song. He wanders into a remote Romanian village and encounters Isidor (Izidor Surban), a still-natty middle-aged musician who is drunkenly bewailing the arrest of his son. Adopted by the old man, Stéphane is eventually accepted into a Rom village. There he meets the dancer Sabina, considered a whore ever since she left her husband back in France. The three go off on the road, playing parties and weddings. Stéphane receives money from home to buy a car and a four-track tape studio to make field recordings of Gypsy bands and singers, but his original goal recedes as he pursues it, and an act of violence ends Stéphane's idyll.

Gatlif gives this film a much quicker pace than Latcho Drom. You begin to see Gypsy life as not much different than the life of Jews or Eastern Europeans--especially in the importance of fluent cursing as a way to survive a malignant land, a custom as prevalent among old-country Jews as among Gypsies. (When Isidor first lays eyes on Stéphane, he exclaims, a la Groucho Marx, "May I rot if I don't curse you tonight.") Gatlif doesn't blame the troubles of the Rom community on Stéphane's arrival. In the ending, however, he has Stéphane commit an act of destruction that says unequivocally, "These Rom are too pure to be heard by this world." At best, Gatlif presents a world outsiders wouldn't see otherwise. At worst, he's a cultural raider who patronizes the Rom by cloaking them in yet more mystery.

Gadjo Dilo (Unrated; 97 min.), directed and written by Tony Gatlif, photographed by Eric Guichard and starring Rona Hartner and Romain Duris.

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From the September 10-16, 1998 issue of Metro.

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