Review of Gadjo Dilo: The Crazy Stranger (1997), dir. Tony Gatlif
Tony Gatlif, born of mixed French-Algerian origin, is a contemporary director who likes to question the conventional concepts of filmdom and, by mixing them together, produces intoxicating cocktails where authenticity, spontaneity, spiritual purity and love shake hands with passion, ugliness, denunciation and crime. Gatlif is on the side of the underdog in his films. Not only does he touch on the most controversial social issues of our times, but he also has a predilection for casting unconventional actors and amateurs picked up on the street. Almost all his most famous films, including Transylvania, Swing, Latcho Drom, Exils and Korkoro, deal with Gypsies, and Gadjo Dilo is not an exception.
Gadjo Dilo (translated as “crazy white” or “crazy stranger”) can be classified as a semi-documentary with a primary focus on Gypsy culture, their way of living, position in society and identity. The 1997 film is set in the contemporary Romanian countryside and depicts the intercultural conflicts of people from diverse backgrounds and of different outlooks on life, who, despite outer obstacles and language barriers, are able to find their way towards each other.
The film’s story is simple, though abundant in musical and visual elements, as the main emphasis is put on the viewer's perceptions and feelings. The film follows the journey of a young man, Stephane, from Paris to a small Romani community in the Romanian countryside. His father, lately deceased, was an adventurous traveler and collected original songs of Gypsies from the Balkans. Stephane has come across some of his father’s cassettes and hits the road around Romanian villages. He is so impressed by the music that he decides to follow his father’s lifestyle and experience a true life pulsing outside a city. On his journey Stephane meets Izidor, an eccentric leader of a Gypsy community who strikes up a conversation with him after the young man, having missed the closing hours of a hostel, ends up in the street. In a very friendly atmosphere of drinking and singing, Izidor offers him a shelter in his cottage, which becomes an entry ticket to the community and their everyday life.
However, Stephane is not immediately accepted. He is gadjo (white), doesn't speak Romanian or Romani and even appears strangely different. The cultural misunderstandings that inevitably follow result in many humorous situations and endow the story with exuberance.
Stephane has to overcome many obstacles and earn respect in order to become a real member of ‘the big Gypsy family'. He falls in love with an attractive young dancer, Sabina, reveling in her vivid beauty and passionate behavior. He wins the affection of two Gypsy fellows. What he considered dirty, sad and ugly is not like that anymore, and he becomes an inseparable part of it. He realizes that what he has found rounds up and completes his nature, which possesses the innate primitive instincts that humans have in common with animals, just as the higher ones that are valued by society.
Stephane gets a chance to experience the reverse side of Gypsy life when angry villagers set fire to a Gypsy settlement burning Izidor's son to death. This episode draws the viewer's attention to the fact that those who claim to possess high morals are not different from those who are viewed as criminals by majority society as they don’t think twice about committing crime either.
The film, overflowing with pulsing and unexpectedly changing emotions, captures the viewer’s interest with its full-blooded authenticity. It presents a little different view of Gypsies than the one we are used to. It brings a portrayal of people who live their lives with greater happiness than most of us, attuned to the pulse of life around us, indulging in the happy-go-lucky freedom of the poor.