April 24, 2008

Transylvania (2006)

The latest Gypsypalooza from Romani-afficionado Tony Gatlif is nothing to write home about. While the film has its good moments, it is ultimately flawed overall, and will only appeal to hardcore Gatlif fans, Asia Argento fans and other Romani aficionados who need their yearly gypsy fix. Sometimes I wonder why is it that our only option for any serious cinema concerning the Romani people is Gatlif's work. But then I digress and realize that the more a film approaches mainstream the more it diverges from a work that will be true to the gypsy experience. In this respect Gatlif's work threads the line between authentic gypsy representation and quality cinema. Unfortunately, it doesn't do either one justice. At times in the film you get the impression that the gypsies are romanticized to a point of making their lifestyle appealing to the viewer. This is not to say that Transylvania is the biggest offender in this respect, I can think of many other films that represent them using worse clichés, but sometimes you get the impression that gypsy life is all one big song and dance party. As for the filmic language, Céline Bozon's cinematography nicely captures the natural beauty of Transylvania and shows off the various locations in the small country villages which gives it an almost fairy-tale like quality. If there is one other saving grace aside from the location in this film, it is Asia Argento's performance, which at times seemed to channel Monica Vitti's performances in those old Antonioni films, conveying so well that feeling of alienation and anxiety. A particularly charming moment in the film is the scene in which Argento rides the old man's bycicle and sings the Bandiera Rossa then eventually speeds up and screams at the top of her lungs 'Bandiera rossa la trionferà - Evviva il comunismo e la libertà!'. The dialogue being partly improvised, it is conceivable that this was Argento's contribution, which makes it particularly charming considering Romania's communist past and its absolute irrelevance to her gypsy adventure, adding an extra little layer of meaning to the film and the state of gypsies in Romania, albeit perhaps an unintended one. Other than that, her co-star Birol Ünel is solid, although at times he reminded me of a eastern-euro version of Chuck Norris, which unintentionally detracted from the seriousness of his role. I think Gatlif could have ended up with a better film if he went all the way down the art-house path instead of trying to satisfy both art-house and mainstream audiences. All the elements were there, it's just too bad that he didn't assemble them differently.