Through dramas like ‘Gadjo Dilo’ and the doc ‘Latcho Drom’, Algerian-born director Tony Gatlif has expressed his celluloid kinship with the Roma communities of Eastern Europe, and this latest offering finds him on the road in the farthest reaches of Romania with a wide-eyed and sullen Asia Argento. Her characteristically flighty heroine is two months pregnant and in pursuit of the gypsy musician who left her behind in France, but as soon as the camera introduces us to Birol (‘Head-On’) Ünel’s rapscalliony hustler, an itinerant dealer in whatever he can persuade rural old folks to part with, it doesn’t take a crystal ball to see where the story’s going. Still, it’s hard to imagine these two out-sized personalities lasting more than a few minutes in the same room before a screaming match kicks up.
Life is loud in these parts, as the movie evolves into a whirl of thronging local festivals, rapid-fire cimbaloms and violins, fist fights, smashed crockery, female armpit hair and more than the odd hissy fit. ‘Why is my heart possessed?’ wonders Asia at one point, and she might very well ask, since the sketchy screenplay outlines the characters’ high-octane emotions but never really allows us access to them. It’s frustrating really, since both leads are clearly up for Gatlif’s all-the-stops-out approach, only for the material to let everyone down. Still, with lashings of authentic musical fervour and Céline Bozon’s camerawork capturing post-Ceausescu industrial wasteland, magical twilight and elemental snowscapes with hallucinatory immediacy, it’s still an insidiously memorable visual experience, even if it offers only dazzling snapshots of contemporary life in the region which gives it its title. Trevor Johnston