With Gadjo Dilo, a crowdpleasing movie at the Coolidge Corner about a young Frenchman (Romaine Duris) who treks to Rumania seeking a gypsy singer whose voice is on a tape recording, Tony Gatlif, part gypsy himself, completes a trio of films (also Latcho Drom and Mondo) celebrating gypsy life.
"I love trilogies," Gatlif, speaking French, declared at a press conference I attended at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland. "It took me fifteen years to accomplish this film trilogy. And the more I shot the gypsies, the more I discovered I didn't know about them.I wanted to put myself in their shoes, so I kept living with them. I wanted to free myself of the nasty look of outsiders, who kept telling me stupid things about gypsies. The only people who know about them are the police, who have been dealing with them since the Middle Ages, and rightly or wrongly accusing them of doing things."
Duris, the Gadjo Dilo star, is a pretty-boy French actor, a Tom Cruise lightweight. But Gadjo Dilo has two inspired bits of casting: Isidor Serban, a real-life gypsy playing a crusty, always inebriated Gypsy patriarch, and Rona Hartman, a vibrant Rumanian actress, playing a sexually charged gypsy woman so effectively that everyone who sees the movie is sure she's the real thing.
"Isidor's never acted before, never spoken into a microphone," Gatlif explained. "And he never thought for a moment that if he played drunk, he didn't really need to be drunk."
And his casting of Hartman, who won a Best Actress award at Locarno? "I saw her in a video cassette. She was someone very wild, also extremely feminine. When we met, the only thing she did was that she started to sing a song for me in Rumanian. It was very erotic, and I decided, 'This is going to be the rhythm of the film.'
"When we shot, many of the crew were scared of catching lice and flees. But Rona lived with the gypsy women in their tent, held their babies. The more she did it, the more she was a true gypsy."
Someone asked Gatlif if he was influenced making Gadjo Dilo by Yugoslavian Emir Kusturica's Time of the Gypsies. The question peeved him. "I follow my own road, shoot my own films. I love John Ford, for instance, and some of my frames remind me of Ford. But Kusturica is not one I love." He dismissed as nonsense Time of the Gypsies' most breathtaking scene, in which the gypsies light up a river with candles.
"That's way too expensive for gypsies," Gatlif said. "There are rich gypsies, but they'd spend their money on jewelry, or on gold teeth."
(Boston Phoenix, Agust, 1998)