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France 2002
Directed by
Tony Gatlif
90 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


Synopsis: Max, a middle class boy who is holidaying with his grandmother is intrigued with the music of the gypsies who live in a enclave on the outskirts of town. He not only acquires a guitar and starts having lessons from a disciple of Django Reinhardt but meets Swing and finds out about gypsy life.

With the character of Max, Tony Gatlif has devised a pretext to bring yet another variant of gypsy music and culture to a Western audience. His previous effort, Vengo (2001). had a Spanish setting and the music was strongly influenced by flamenco. Now he shifts to Southern France and the style of music made famous by Django Reinhardt, but also, unlike Django's, incorporating many Moorish elements (the final performance involving multiple singers and a chorus is a fabulous example of the interplay of styles). If you like this kind of music you'll only be disappointed that there isn't more of it (and if you see it at the Lumiere, that the cinema doesn't have a better sound system).

In this respect, the narrative structure, based around the, admittedly engaging, story of the innocent summer love of youngsters Max and his gypsy friend, Swing is somewhat of a separate issue. Gatlif has chosen not to take the more musicological approach of The Buena Vista Social Club (1999) but to present the music in the context of a romanticised portrait of gypsy life. I'm not a great fan of this picturesque approach but at least in this film Gatlif has retreated from the relative sophistication of Vengo and adopted a simple and low-key presentation (although perhaps with a few too many aerial sequences) peppered with the occasional lesson on gypsy life.

As the title suggests, Swing is delightfully evanescent experience. Fortunately, the soundtrack will enable us to relive it again and again.




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