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Thursday, 29 March 2012 07:45

Nomadic reverie - Romanies in cinema

Who are today's nomads? Tourists, artists, gypsies, students, seasonal workers, or immigrants? The many conflicts that still arise in today's Europe between states and nomads like the Romanies should incline us to take a look at what nomadism really is, how the European community perceives it, and what our national borders and policies do to it.

Tony Gatlif, an Algerian-born French director of Romani ethnicity dedicated his artistic life to portraying Europe's biggest and oldest nomadic community. The Romani people (otherwise called gypsies, tsigans, gitan, halab, bohemians) are said to have left India in the direction of Europe around two thousand years ago. In "Latcho Drom" ("Safe Journey," 1993) Gatlif begins a journey retracing the paths of those nomads who later became Romanies. Wandering through the lands of India, Egypt, Turkey, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, France and Spain, the silent camera participates in the journey and the musical traditions of today's nomads.

Devoid of any dialogue or articulated comments, the film's strong images nevertheless carry an explicit political message. The story starts in the deserts of Rajastan in northern India, where certain communities still live a traditional nomadic life in the wilderness. One cannot help but see these images as an artistic celebration of the idea of nomadic freedom. These young, graceful and beautiful nomads travelling through a timeless space, practising mystic rituals, are presented as the semi-mythological prototypes of the Romanies. Gradually moving towards Europe, the images lose their abstract and idealistic sense. On their way to Europe, the travellers encounter hunger, accommodation problems and prejudice. The film shows the nomads' journey out of India as a road towards poverty, eternal exile and struggle with western urbanisation. The film ends in Spain where a Romani community is just being evicted. As the scene takes place, the famous flamenco artist La Caita sings: "Why does you wicked mouth spit on me? / Sometimes I find myself envying the respect you give to your dog."

Published in Cafe Cinema
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