|A FilmExposed Film Review
Gypsy Caravan: When The Road Bends
Dir: Jasmine Dellal, 2007, US, 110minutes
Featuring: Esme Redzepova, Antonio El Pipa, Juana la del Pipa, Harish, Nicolae Neacsu, Johnny Depp
Some people like to believe that, because Britain took so enthusiastically to curry and reggae, that it has no real problem with racism. A similar thinking seems to be behind this well-meaning account of a “gypsy music” tour of America. It follows a group of musicians from countries as diverse as India, Romania, Macedonia and Spain who are united by their Romany heritage and, well, not much else really.
Nevertheless, director Dellal seems to think that by simply pointing the camera at her subjects and letting us enjoy their, admittedly ace, music that we'll gain a greater understanding of them. This attitude is summed up by an appearance from Johnny Depp, who worked with Romanian musicians Taraf on The Man Who Cried (2000). “It would be great,” he says, “if by experiencing the Romany people and their music, people can learn more about them and understand that what you've believed about these people has been a lie your entire life.”
But what does he mean by that? Everybody knows that gypsies are soulful, passionate musicians in the same sense that “everyone” in the 70s knew that black people had great rhythm and were jolly good at sports. Indeed, Depp's performance in the dreadful The Man Who Cried is just one in a long list of aberrations that have reinforced this lazy cliché.
To be fair Dellal does try and take us deeper. She goes back to the musicians’ various homelands and speaks to their families in numerous scenes. These throw up the film's best moments. We get tantalising glimpses of the character of Macedonian national hero Esme “the Queen Of The Gypsies”, who caused a national scandal by marrying a non-gypsy. Then there's proud patriarch Nicolae, still supporting his entire family at the age of 78, and, most extraordinarily, traditional cross-dressing Indian dancer Harish (pictured) who only started dancing to support his siblings when his parents died.
Any one of these stories could support a film on their own but as it is, we just skim past them before being immersed in yet another dull on-the-road scene that tells us little or nothing. As mentioned, the film's one saving grace is the music which is varied and powerful. Unlike this summer's other gypsy film TRANSYLVANIA (2007) the tunes here go beyond fiddley-diddley-dee. The inclusion of Indian musicians Maharaja provides an interesting insight into where all the other strands of Romany music come from and, from the joyful brass of Taraf to Esme's heartbroken wail, the songs demonstrate the sheer variety of Romany life far better than any documentary footage could.