Tony Gatlif is little known contemporary French/Algerian director and music composer. His marginal films have kept him out of the spotlight, yet he is appreciated as an excellent cinematographer.
Son of Andalusian gypsies born in a suburb of Algers, Algeria, Gatlif becomes a street kid at the tender age of twelve to escape an arranged marriage. He barely attends school, and any form of punishment from his teachers, no matter how strict, remains unsuccessful. Then one day, an instructor takes Gatlif and his friends to the local Cinema club and there begins the boy’s love affair with cinema.
He arrives in France at the age of fourteen, with no plans, money, or direction. He vagabonds from Marseilles to Paris, sneaks into the theaters at the Grand Boulevards to sleep and stay warm. He is taken in and out of juvenile centers. Yet, this doesn’t stop the boy from following his strange intuition and pursue his passion for cinema. His unstoppable persistence serves him well when he sneaks into his idol Michel Simon’s dressing room after a show and asks him if he thinks that he’ll make a good director. The actor assures this strange boy that yes he will. He even writes him a letter of recommendation which allows Gatlif to enter an acting school that is training another starting star, Gerarld Depardieu. Gatlif is still mostly illiterate and learns his lines phonetically.
It is around that time that he writes his first screenplay which leads to a movie released in 1975 called “La Tete en Ruine.”
He has made a few movies after that, including “Corre Gitano” released in 1981 that he considers a failure because it presents flamenco through the eyes of a spectator.
Gatlif will not make the same mistake twice. The film that he made after that is a film/documentary called Latcho Drom (1993). This film has no cast or dialogue, it is an experience of voyaging through the musical and dance traditions of gypsies from India, Egypt, Turkey, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, France, to Spain. Latcho Drom is a celebration of life and differences. Gatlif doesn’t provide any commentary but rather shows his audience the heart of a culture that is immensely diverse and deeply misunderstood.
The film received a lot of attention because of its visual force. Gatlif tackled a subject that was and is becoming more and more controversial in France through poetry. He poses as a witness rather than a “writer” or “director” and gives a voice to every character in the film.
He then released Gadjo Dilo (1998) and Exiles (2004) both starring the celebrated actor Romain Duris.
Gatlif’s cinematic style is blunt. Unlike “Corre Gitano” which he deemed a failure due to its observant filming technique, his latest films make the viewer a participant. This effect brings a sense of belonging and responsibility as an audience. His style is very realistic yet manages to keep a sense of fantasy through the authentic and unique musical score that he mostly composes himself.
More importantly his stories tackle a universal theme, which is that of the constant renewal of the self.
Gatlif was a traveler, a nomadic man who crossed territories that had their own fixated history. Yet his spectacular films portray a human inclination towards fluidity with an ironic desire to cling on to an “identity” while constantly chasing freedom.
He is currently working on a documentary called Les Indignés expected to come out in 2012 about the protests in Europe, primarily in Spain, that were sparked by the “Arab Spring” and that mirrored Stephan Hessel’s manifesto Indignez-vous! (Indigène, 2010).
Korkoro (2008) – A beautiful tale about the survival of a family of gypsies during WWII.
Exiles (2004) – A Parisian couple of Algerian roots journeying by foot to Algeria to reconnect with lost roots.
Gadjo Dilo (1997) – A Frenchman travels to Romania to find a singer that his father idolized.
Latcho Drom (1993)
Music: Taraf de Haidouks Romani musicians who appear in Latcho Drom. They play traditional music from Clejani. I recommend the Album “A Band of Gypsies” released in 2001.
Written by Joséphine