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Spain/France 2001
Directed by
Tony Gatlif
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


Synopsis:Caco (Antonia Canales), an Andalusian gypsy, is responsible for his handicapped nephew Diego (Orestes Villasan Rodriguez), when Diego's father goes into hiding overseas after killing a member of the neigbouring family. In order to protect Diego, Caco, also grieving for his dead daughter, tries to stop the circle of revenge killings.

The opening scene of Vengo is a worry. We see a group of well-dressed people queuing up for a concert of flamenco "gypsy" music in a picturesque tumble-down castle. Why a worry? Because it suggests that Gatlif himself is succumbing to the commodification of the musical phenomenon which he has done much to popularise since his very successful Latcho Drom in 1993. That film, a semi-documentary, was a revelation of rich musical diaspora stretching from Northern India to Spain. His next film, Gadjo Dilo was a more intimate, localised variant, mixing musicological documentation with an off-beat love story. Vengo still has the marvellous music in its foreground, but it is no longer banged out by scruffy amateurs on scratchy fiddles and dented piano accordians but now performed by professional musicians in neatly laundered garb.

The medley of musical numbers is justified by a fairly thin storyline, based around a typical family vendetta scenario and used to provide a variety pretexts for musical get-togethers (the opening sequence has no relation to that story). Shot in the parched countryside of Andalusia, as with Latcho Drom, Gatlif is clearly wanting to depict the flesh and blood milieu from which the music has spring. In that he is successful (in one remarkable sequence a woman in her 60's sings stridently of "sorrow, sorrow" at a baby's christening), but the focus is very much upon the mythicised paternalism of Latin culture. Antonia Canales is compelling as the "gangsta" patrone but the machismo of the endlessly idle, preening males gets a little wearing.

Beautifully filmed, the monied environment of Vengo gives Gatlif the opportunity to add some gloss to gypsy culture but personally I preferred it when he was wandering through muddy villages and his characters slept on straw beds..




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