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Movie reviews by Gerald Panio

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Latcho Drom (1993)


The sword of anxiety cuts into our skin

God have mercy—deliver us from our trials.

–from a gypsy song

Until I was in my late twenties, I don’t think I really believed in gypsies. Gypsies were romantic inventions, like swashbuckling pirates with cutlasses and parrots on their shoulders. The only gypsies I knew were in folk songs and operas and thick novels by Victor Hugo. All that changed when I moved to Europe. Suddenly, I was driving past gypsy caravans parked in fields outside French cities; I was watching ten-year-old girls in light, flowered dresses stealing wallets in the Paris Metro; I was living in a neighborhood where gypsy beggars put in long days “on the job” like steelworkers punching time clocks. Django Reinhardt’s music was everywhere. An early-morning stroll through the industrial wastelands along the Seine in the north of Paris took me (nervously) through a bivouac of sleeping men, women, children, dogs.

And, of course, I saw my first movie about modern gypsy life.

It was a 1967 film by Yugoslavian director Alexandre Petrovic, called J’ai même rencontré des Tziganes heureux (I’ve even met some happy Gypsies). The winner of the Jury prize at Cannes that year, Petrovic’s film—particularly the bitter irony of its title—rang true with everything I was glimpsing of a life at odds with the cultural ideals of the West: stability, wealth, ambition, the rule of law. As much as a rebellious French child might have wanted to run away with the circus, she or he might have dreamed of the outlaw mystique of a gypsy life. How fitting that one of the first movies ever made, an 1896 short by the extraordinary French magician-turned-filmmaker Georges Méliès, was The Camp of the Bohemians.

If I were ever to find a copy of Petrovic’s film, I’d buy it for our local video store. It’s haunted me for twenty years. In the meantime, this month’s column is about another, very different portrait of the Rom (the name now most commonly used for the Gypsy people) that is available in Crawford Bay. Perhaps more of an extended music video than a traditional film, Tony Gatlif’s Latcho Drom (“Safe Journey” in the Romany language) is one of a series of films about Romany history and culture this director has made over the last thirty years. Gatlif was born in Algeria in 1948, his parents of French and Gypsy descent. Music is the sublime thread through all of Tony Gatlif’s gypsy films, from Les Princes (1983), through Latcho Drom (1993), Gadjo dilo (1997), Vengo (2000) and Swing (2002), but it finds its purest form in Latcho Drom.

The focus on music is the film’s great strength, and its weakness. I’ll not dwell on the latter. Latcho Drom will teach you little of the harshness, intensity, challenges, and dangers of vagabond life on society’s margins. Gatlif’s other films address those issues directly. With Latcho Drom the director wanted to paint an aural/visual tapestry of Romany music from the deserts of Rajasthan in India to the towns of Andalusia in Spain, passing through Egypt, Turkey, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and France. The journey crosses a thousand years in time, and parallels the original migration of the Rom from India across central and western Europe. Because the film has no narration, other than translations of some of the songs, a bit of a road map doesn’t hurt. This review is one, but I’d also recommend Bart McDowell’s fine National Geographic volume, Gypsies: Wanderers of the World (it traces the precise route of Gatlif’s camera, in reverse), and the French website for the journal Etudes Tsiganes (

Latcho Drom begins with a small troop of Rom migrating across Rajasthan. The men ride in two-wheeled carts drawn by oxen, while the women and children walk behind. A young boy sings a song of homelessness and longing (“I will burn my horoscope that exiled me so far from those I love. I want to return to my family and run barefoot.”). His voice is pure and beautiful, and his presence links together the stages in the film’s journey. One clear message is that Romany tradition remains strong because it is taught to the children. Women and girls dress in the remarkable clothes and jewelry of desert women of this part of the world, and at twilight they dance to the music of one of the many unique gypsy orchestras we meet on the journey. The ceremonies are unfathomable to the outsider. The musical instruments we listen to are exotic, like a couple of the ones we were fortunate enough to hear at this year’s Starbelly Jam music festival.

In Constantinople the music of Latcho Drom becomes the music of the belly dance (with, interestingly, no bellies showing but much wonderful hip-shaking) and love songs with titles like “Dora Dora” and lyrics like “the fire that burns inside me drives me crazy.” Some things are universal.

Although Latcho Drom has the look of a documentary, the scenes are carefully staged. There is an interesting tension between the authenticity of the music, musicians and dancers, and the artifice of the cinematography. But that cinematography is gorgeous, and this is a film of things loved rather than things dissected. I particularly admired the faces in this film; Rembrandt might have painted them this way had he grown up with the light of the Orient.

There are somber moments. Landowners carrying shotguns telling a band of gypsies to move on. Workers bricking up the doors and windows of abandoned buildings to seal out gypsy squatters. In Rumania a gypsy song laments persecution under the Ceausescu dictatorship. Monolithic state architecture now stands seemingly empty and brooding, concrete ghosts of Orwell’s 1984. In Germany, as the camera pans across a winter landscape of snow, frozen rivers and barbed wire, the song is of the Holocaust and Hitler’s hatred of the Rom. The singer has the numbered tattoo of an Auschwitz survivor on her arm. Tony Gatlif was one of the first filmmakers to explore this lesser-known genocide.

But Latcho Drom is a film about music and life, not death. The Hungarian language actually has special words for being entertained by Gypsy musicians. It’s easy to see why. An old man plays an odd tune on his violin with a single string from his bow. A black stallion gallops through the fields to a soundtrack of hammered dulcimers. A band of gypsies brings a smile to the face of a heartbroken woman waiting for a train. Other Romany set up camps in treetops—a vision out of Tolkien or Dante. In Spain, it’s the grandparents’ flamenco. And at Saintes Maries de la Mer in the south of France–where Saint Mary Jacobe and Saint Marie Salome, the mothers of Saints John and James, are said to have landed in a small boat–some incredible guitarists play in a 12th century crypt for a statue of Sara-la-Kali, Sarah the Black, the servant girl who served the two Marys and who is the patron saint of the gypsies.

At the end of the festival of Saintes Maries de la Mer, the statues of the two Marys are carried into the Mediterranean to music and shouts of “Vivent les Saintes Maries!” from the single biggest crowd of Rom to gather anywhere. Latcho Drom gives the rest of us a taste of what they’re celebrating.

Looking Back & Second Thoughts

This is the most joyful celebration of music as a communal activity that I have ever seen. One writer described the Rom as “natural performers and intense spectators,” and that’s who we see in Latcho Drom. Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz comes close, but it’s a celebration in a very specific place & time, and for an adult audience. Latcho Drom ranges across three continents and embraces men, women, and children from India, Egypt, Turkey, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, France, and Spain. The Band certainly knew something about music and life on the road, but for the Rom life is the road and music is life. And it’s not just the soundscape of Tony Gatlif’s film that is splendid; so, too, are the landscapes of cinnamon-colored deserts, endless country roads, magnificent trees, remarkable faces, handsome horses, unfamiliar cities, unique musical instruments, and distinctive caravan camps. Latcho Drom gives every viewer a chance to share in wonder. What a gift he’s given us! I’m curious to know how Gatlif gained the trust of so many who might otherwise have been reluctant to share their private worlds with the camera’s eye. Their trust & candor is a small miracle in itself. The film’s narrative reminded me of an older National Geographic book, Gypsies: Wanders of the World. The author of that book, Bart McDowell, retraced the 13,000-mile migration of the Rom from India to England in the company of an English Rom, Clifford Lee, and his family. I was also reminded of Paul Salopek’s Out of Eden walk, a 24,000-mile embrace of humanity as generous and grounded as Gatlif’s embrace of Rom culture across continents.

Although Latcho Drom has one heart-breaking segment where barbed wire, snowy fields, and a powerful lament recall the tragedy of Nazi genocide of the Rom, this is not a film about the harsher sides of Rom life–persecution, family feuds, poverty, exile, violence. These stories are told elsewhere: in novels by Romani writers such as Mateo Maximoff, in films such as Aleksandar Petrovic’s I Even Met Happy Gypsies (1964), and in publications such as Romani Studies (2000 to now) and The Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society (1888-1999, available free online at Here’s more info about the Journal:

Digitized copies of the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society, 1888-1999, are now available at A catalog, or bibliographic, search, and an experimental full-text search both cover these issues of the Journal. The Journal issues are scanned from copies at the University of Michigan, Indiana University, University of California, and Princeton University.

To access the Journal, go to the HathiTrust web site. There is no need to log in. The Gypsy Lore Society has created a Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society collection within the HathiTrust Digital Library. You can search the collection independently of the rest of the repository. To use the collection, go to the HathiTrust home page and click on “collections” on the top menu. In “find a collection” enter “Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society.” Enter your search term in “search in this collection.” Select a result; the search term should appear in “search in this text.”

The Wikipedia article on Latcho Drom provides a fine summary of what’s happening in each of the film’s different locations:

The film contains very little dialogue and captions; only what is required to grasp the essential meaning of a song or conversation is translated. The film begins in the Thar Desert in Northern India and ends in Spain, passing through Egypt, Turkey, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and France. All of the Romani portrayed are actual members of the Romani community.

  • India—Kalbelia people gathering in celebration.
  • Egypt—Ghawazi people sing and dance while children observe and begin to learn the artistic traditions.
  • Turkey—Turkish Roma in Istanbul sell flowers and play their music in cafes while their children observe and learn.
  • Romania—A young boy listens to Roma musicians sing about the horrors of Nicolae Ceausescu and his reign before returning to his village, where the musicians from earlier begin a semi-spontaneous and joyous music session.
  • Hungary—A Roma family on the train sing of their rejection by non-Romani people. The scene cuts to the train station ahead, where the waiting family set up a fire as they wait across the tracks from the train station while a Hungarian woman and her young son wait on a bench. The boy, seeing that his mother is sad and cold, ventures over to the Roma, who strike up the music and cheer the woman up before their family on the train arrive and they walk away singing.
  • Slovakia—The train screeches along a barbed wire fence as an old woman sings a song about Auschwitz and the camera pans down to reveal her imprisonment tattoo from her time in the concentration camp. A series of shots show a winter camp before the occupants return to the road.
  • France—French Romani set up camp with their metal vardos in a summer field and briefly go about their business, making baskets and other crafts before being driven off by landlords. They leave behind clues that a fellow Romani musician Tchavolo Schmitt uses to find them. They all meet up for the celebration in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer and celebrate the festival of Saint Sarah, patron saint of the Romani.
  • Spain—Latcho Drom closes in Spain, showing flamenco puro performed by local “Gitanos”. The famous “gitana” singer La Caita sings mournfully of the centuries of persecution, repeatedly imploring “Why does your mouth spit on me?” as her query echoes out over the town.
  • The use of music in the film is highly important. Although Latcho Drom is a documentary, there are no interviews and none of the dialogue is captioned. Few of the lyrics are captioned. The film relies on music to convey emotion and tell the story of the Romani. Musicians include the Romanian group Taraf de Haïdouks, La Caita (Spain), Remedios Amaya and gypsy jazz guitarist Tchavolo Schmitt. The soundtrack was composed by Dorado Schmitt, who appears in the film.

And check out the Wikipedia article on Romani Music here:


Movie Information

Genre: Music | Ethnology
Director: Tony Gatlif
Actors: Taraf de Haïdouks, La Caita, Tchavolo Schmitt, Remedios Amaya
Year: 1993
Original Review: August 2003


Netflix’s Pamela Anderson Documentary is a Wake-Up Call

People are going to be really surprised’: inside the Pamela Anderson documentary

In the first article, Cat Cardenas, at, looks at two recent documentaries about women who have struggled to establish their own identities after being fed to a media machine hyped on relentless sexualization. Brooke Shields is the subject of Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields, by director Lana Wilson. Pamela’s Anderson’s story is told in Pamela, A Love Story, from director Ryan White. Here’s an extract from Cardenas’s essay:

Like the Shields documentary, Pamela relies on archival clips from talk shows and red carpets to remind us of the piggish one-liners that were made at Anderson’s expense, and the invasive, tactless questions posed to her by men who felt entitled to ask them. In these interviews, Anderson is subjected to repeated leering inquiries that are either explicitly or implicitly about her sex life or her breasts. It’s hard to watch, but it feels especially cruel given the history she lays out for us.

Growing up, Anderson struggled to process a history of sexual assaults, revealing that she was molested by a babysitter from ages 6 to 10, and was raped on two separate occasions, once by a 25-year-old man when she was 12, and later as a 14-year-old by her boyfriend and six of his friends. By the time she was an adult, posing in Playboy became a way for her to reclaim her sexuality. “That was the first time I felt like I’d broken free of something,” she says. “That’s where a wild woman was born. I felt like it was kind of my gateway to another world. Now I was going to take my power back.”

Instead, Anderson’s modeling and acting career become like a pair of leaden wings, granting her personal freedom but weighing her down with a reputation she hasn’t been able to escape. In the Shields documentary, it’s made clear that society often affords women two choices in life: As in Freud’s famous formulation, they can be the Madonna, or they can be the whore. And once a woman is labeled as a whore, she’s frequently dehumanized by the men who come to see her as a sex object, and treated with callousness by women, who see her as a traitor to the cause. If Anderson ever stood a chance of escaping the categorization, the leak of her sex tape firmly closed the door.

The second article, by Adrian Horton for The Guardian, provides more background on the making of the documentary itself, and a less rueful perspective than Cardenas’. From the article:

Anderson comes off, ultimately, as a romantic, freely jumping into love, loss, chaos and the process of putting it all in a documentary. She starts the film married to one man (“a good Canadian guy, normal, figured maybe I should try that”) and ends it divorced for the fifth time, determined to love herself. Anderson “loves an experience”, said White. “She’s a total free spirit. She’s a total artist. But she’s not calculating in any way.”

Unlike many a celebrity documentary, the lasting impression is not of a career mastermind but an open-hearted person still a little mystified by her own fame, and still figuring things out. “She’s never thinking about the end result,” said White. “She’s always staying in the moment and having a blast, or having a tragedy, at times.”

Shinichiro Watanabe on Making ‘Cowboy Bebop’ And What He Thinks Of The Live-Action Adaptation

For Forbes magazine, Ollie Barder interviews one of Japan’s best animation directors. The original Cowboy Bebop remains one of my favorites. Like Watanabe, I was disappointed by the live-action version, which mimicked the original without bringing anything new to the table. From the interview:

When I started to go to junior high school, I began watching movies and anime. I then gradually felt like these were things I wanted to make myself. I was equally interested in both live-action and animation, so when I graduated high school, I wasn’t sure which way I should go. That year was 1984 and it happened to be when three very prominent anime were released; Nausicaä, Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer and Macross: Do You Remember Love?. Watching these anime movies made me think that Japanese animation is far better than Japanese live-action. So I decided to go with making anime.

Of those three anime movies, Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer is my favorite. I really felt the movie exhibited great freedom of creativity. So many crazy things happen in a very surreal way. It felt like anything could happen and that touched me….

From the beginning, I wanted to make my own original anime, not the movie or series version of some hit manga or popular novel.”

Cowboy Bebop ended up being the first anime where I could do whatever I wanted. That means you don’t really need to pay attention to what I worked on before Cowboy Bebop.

The timing for Cowboy Bebop was when Star Wars was coming back with The Phantom Menace. That meant Bandai thought another Star Wars boom was likely on the way and spaceships would be key. So they wanted to sell new plastic models of original spaceships. That resulted in their order to make an anime where spaceships would show up. So as long as there were spaceships, we could do whatever we wanted.

However, once I started doing anything I wanted, Bandai came back saying that the plastic models of this anime would not sell. That resulted in Bandai cancelling the project to do spaceship-related plastic models and they withdrew as a sponsor, resulting in Cowboy Bebop getting stuck….

The ship designs were actually chosen through a competition. Many famous artists, including Kawamori and Hajime Katoki, attended the competition but in the end, we went with Kimitoshi Yamane. This was because Yamane’s designs looked the most realistic, something that could actually exist and people could use. It wasn’t just about the designs looking cool; they needed to be believable and realistic….

Back when I was working on Macross Plus, Yoko Kanno’s name came up as one of the candidates to compose the music. However, at that time she wasn’t well known at all. Kanno then submitted a demo tape and which included an enormous variety of music. It was unbelievable that just one person could do all of that. That was very impressive, so I got interested in working with her.

Through the work on Macross Plus, I came to realize that Kanno is a real genius and she can do any type of music. So when we started working on Cowboy Bebop, the music genre was going to be totally different; I already knew that Kanno could do it….

In order to make something great or cool, I need to try something new and make something from scratch. I believe this is very important for creativity and if I only imitate what I have done before, I will not be able to make anything great. So I always place great importance on making something new. David Bowie used to say the same thing and he is someone who I greatly respect. He always tried to change his style and try something new.

William Castle: Hollywood’s Last True Showman

William Castle may not have been one of the great auteur filmmakers (the Hollywood Reporter once labelled him as “unfit to handle a motion picture”), but I have very fond memories of triple horror movie bills at the local cinema during my teen years, featuring such Castle treats as Mr. Sardonicus, House on Haunted Hill, and The Tingler. Castle gave Robert Mitchum his first starring role in When Stranger Marry (1944), produced Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968). This site gives an entertaining overview of Hollywood’s answer to P.T. Barnum.

Films Worth Talking About:

Schindler’s List, El Mariachi, Groundhog Day, Point of No Return, Falling Down, La Scorta (The Escort), Much Ado About Nothing, The Piano, Farewell My Concubine, Jurassic Park, Cliffhanger, Like Water for Chocolate, In the Line of Fire, Sleepless in Seattle, The Joy Luck Club, Short Cuts, Three Colors Blue, The Age of Innocence, Germinal, A Bronx Tale, Demolition Man, The Remains of the Day, Philadelphia, What’s Love Got to Do With It, Tombstone, Kalifornia, Cronos, Cool Runnings, Sonatine, Naked, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Mrs. Doubtfire, Menace II Society, Les Visiteurs, Raining Stones, The Blue Kite, Benny & Joon, Searching for Bobby Fischer, Little Buddha, The Scent of Green Papaya, Swing Kids, Window to Paris

The Bigger Picture

Films: Les Princes (1983), Gadjo Dilo (1998), Swing (2002), I Even Met Happy Gypsies (1964)

Music: Here’s a detailed soundtrack listing for the film:

There is a musical group called Latcho Drom, formed in Toulouse, France, by guitarist Christophe Lartilleux.

Books: Bart McDowell, Gpysies: Wanderers of the World; Jean-Paul Clébert, The Gypsies; George Borrow, Lavengro: The Classic Account of Gypsy Life in Nineteenth-Century England

The Word on the Street

It is sort of misleading to say this movie is not narrated. It is masterfully narrated by the music itself, the soaring melodies and subtitled lyrics tell a story much better than a narrator would have. [snikrepkire]

This is not “direct cinéma”, as a matter of fact it is its opposite. Second installment of filmmaker Gatlif’s gypsy trilogy, this French work produced by Michèle Ray-Gavras, is a film masterpiece, not pure documentary, no fiction by any means. Instead, Gatlif has chosen different locations of the route from India to Spain, wherever the Rom people have a strong presence, and with the help of art directors he has staged several musical numbers that tell us how the gypsies live, sing, dance, struggle and have survived….this is a work of great beauty, strong colors and wonderful singing and dancing. [EdgarST]

Latcho Drom, or Safe Journey, is the second film in Tony Gatlif’s trilogy of the Romany people. The film is a visual depiction and historical record of Romany life in European and Middle Eastern countries. Even though the scenes are mostly planned, rehearsed, and staged there is not a conventional story line and the dialog does not explain activities from scene to scene. Instead, the film allows the viewer to have sometimes a glimpse, sometimes a more in-depth view of these people during different eras and in different countries….

Mr. Gatlif portrays the nomadic groups in a positive way. However, we also witness the rejection, distrust, and alienation they receive from the non-Romany population. ]JOHNAMI]

And here’s a link to a review of Latcho Drom Artur Conka at the RomaArchive: