'Latcho Drom' is the Gypsies' moving story

March 17, 1995|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

"Latcho Drom," which pulls into the Charles today with bells on its fingers and bells on its toes, is the world's first Rom movie, and that's not CD-ROM, no, that's Rom, as in the Romany people, known more flamboyantly to the world as Gypsies. Director Tony Gatlif is Rom himself.

Not quite a documentary, not quite a drama, not quite anything familiar, "Latcho Drom" could be called a musical cavalcade. It essentially evokes the general movement of Gypsy peoples from Northern India in medieval times and follows them as they wander westward, subtly changing, always persecuted, always moving -- and always making music.

There's no narrative or drama per se, and indeed, the film reminded me of the most primitive kind of dramatic expression, the diorama, in which famous scenes from history are replicated by unprofessional actors frozen in place, like living paintings. The only difference is that here the "actors" are all musicians, and they perform the tunes appropriate to the time and place.

The first images appear to replicate that initial caravan journey from India toward the Middle East. In the desert, the music retains its connection to Hindu forms of musical expression; soon, however, it's moved into the Middle East, where the belly dance, vigorously performed, is the preferred form of communication; then we move through Istanbul and spend a long time on the frosty, bleak plains of central Europe. This section effectively evokes the Gypsy experience during the Holocaust, when Romany peoples were slated for extermination with Jews and Slavs by the German SS.

Finally, it reaches the warmth and greenery of France and moves, for a final, exuberant set, down to Spain and, presumably, a launching into the New World.

"Latcho Drom" is being shown in rotation with "Shallow Grave."

"Latcho Drom"

Documentary

Directed by Tony Gatlif

Released by Shadow Distribution

Unrated

** 1/2

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