(director/writer: Tony Gatlif; cinematographer: Eric Guichard; editor: Monique Dartonne; cast: Romain Duris (Stephane), Rona Hartner (Sabina), Isidor Serban (Izidor), Ovidiu Balan (Sami), Dan Astileanu (Dumitru), Florin Modovan (Adriani); Runtime: 100; CNC/Canal Plus/Princes Films; 1998-France)

The director, himself, is a Rom member.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

For the Algerian-born French director Tony Gatlif, “Gadjo Dilo” is the third film in his gypsy trilogy. In 1994 Gatlif wrote and directed “Latcho Drom,” a musical documentary of gypsies performing in different countries. And in “Mondo,” he told the story of an abandoned gypsy boy in France.

Gypsies have a reputation as thieves, and have suffered a vast amount of prejudice because of their nomadic lifestyle and failure to conform to the society where they live. The director, himself, is a Rom member; he’s in love with the gypsies — their foibles and all — and plays a joke with their worldwide pejorative image by reversing the things usually said about gypsies and having the gypsies instead say them about the foreigners.

The film has caught the gypsy mood and their persona: the gypsies have gold teeth, the women bathe together in the nude and talk about the men in a frank sexual manner, the men drink a lot, play music with deep feelings, curse on a regular basis, and are quick to smile and see the humor in almost everything they do. This film lays the gypsy spirit on thickly, as its infectuous story unfolds in a gypsy village somewhere in rural Romania.

“Gadjo Dilo” opens with a young, educated Parisian, Stephane (Romain Duris), walking in torn boots, down an isolated desolate road covered with snow and ice. He reaches a local village hotel at night, but he is told it is too late to be admitted. He’s soon joined by an old drunk man shouting by the town square: “May I die! May I rot!” and lamenting the injustice of his son Adriani having just been sent to prison, claiming that there is no justice for the gypsies. The old man says his name is Izidor (Isidor Serban) and that his finding Stephane here is a sign of good luck. He makes the young man get drunk with him as a sign of respect and starts to treat him as a surrogate son.

The next morning, in the gypsy village, some children discover Stephane in Izidor’s bed. They shout in excitement, “There’s a great big gadjo sleeping at our place!” In the Gypsies’ Romany language,”Gadjo Dilo” means “crazy stranger,” which becomes a reference to the French youth and the film’s title.

It turns out that Stephane is an ethnomusicologist like his father, interested in recording the gypsy music, and is on a pilgrimage through the rural Romanian countryside in search of the pure gypsy sound, in particular, he seeks a singer — Nora Luca — whose voice is on an audiotape of his late father and was his dad’s favorite singer. He comes prepared for his research with a tape-recording system and many cassettes of the type of gypsy music he is looking for.

Stephane gets trapped in the village as the old man refuses to let his good luck Frenchman leave, despite the other gypsies calling for the foreigner to get out — that he is here only to steal their chickens. There is a language problem and the only one in the village who speaks French will not translate; she is an attractive and spirited young girl named Sabina (Rona Hartner), who left a husband in Belgium. Stephane has a problem getting the old man to understand that he wants to meet Nora Luca and that she is the main purpose for his travels. Instead, the old man takes him into his house, gets the gypsy women to repair his shoes like new, teaches him to speak like a gypsy, and tells him the best gypsy music in the world is in this village.

When Stephane tries to clean up Izidor’s place, in appreciation for his hospitality, he is told by him: “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for cleaning my house?” Some women, observing Stephane’s dusting and sweeping, mock him by saying that he’s a faggot.

Sabina is considered by the villagers to be a slut because of what happened in Belgium. When Stephane shows that he is attracted to her, she shows disgust; she bites his hand when he tries to help her carry wood back for the fire, she raises her skirt mooning him. But, despite that initial coldness, Stephane is soon making love in the woods and running around naked with her.

As Stephane’s about to go back to Paris the local townspeople react to Adriani’s release from prison and his revenge killing of the town official who had him arrested, by burning down the gypsy village and killing Adriani and Izador. The question now becomes if Stephane and Sabina will remain together, as he buries his gypsy recordings knowing that he has not found a utopia in this village. Whether Stephane can return to French society or feels liberated after living for months with the gypsies and assimilating with them, becomes his dilemma. For the director the question becomes how is it whenever events turn bad the gypsy community is almost always made the scapegoat!

Gatlif succeeded in setting an evocative gypsy mood, touching on their charms, highlighting their moving music, demonstrating the sheer joy in their wedding ceremonies, and leaving a good taste in one’s mouth about the gypsy spirit to survive. Though the film doesn’t tell a great story, even with all the exotic atmosphere, yet it still holds one’s interest throughout.