Part concert film and part Romani-condition doc, “Gypsy Caravan” presents the individual lives and common culture of an assortment of Romani musicians, with the aim of both delighting audiences with vibrant music and portraying a maligned population positively and truthfully. Writer-director Jasmine Dellal succeeds on both fronts, though that’s due more to the natural character and charisma of her subjects than to her actual means of showcasing them.
Dellal (“American Gypsy”) chronicles the 2001 Gypsy Caravan U.S. tour, following five top Romani (or, pejoratively, Gypsy) acts — representing several countries, languages and musical genres — as they take the stage, please the crowds and embrace their ancestry.
She alternates tour footage with visits to the artists’ home turf — humbler terrain where we meet extended families, observe a wedding and funeral, and hear stories of poverty, prejudice and endurance.
The film has plenty to like: its hearty music; its verite look and tone, some of it attributable to the cinematographic contributions of Albert Mayles (“Gimme Shelter,” “Grey Gardens”); its personality-rich subjects. The Roma come across as family-focused, peaceful, decent, zesty people through our glimpses of the lives of these and other artists.
But when it comes to exploring the potentially fascinating element of the Romani psyche and how generations of persecution have shaped it, the film lacks insight and impact. Rather than encouraging her subjects to discuss what it means, deep down, to be a Rom, Dellal lets Johnny Depp talk vaguely about anti-Gypsy stereotypes.
As for the music, Dellal breaks up the onstage material, and, consequently, individual performances get little chance to wow us. In these passages, as in the film at large, we’re transported to fabulous harmony and humanity zones, but they’re frustratingly short on resonance.
Gypsy Caravan **½
Starring Maharaja, the Antonio el Pipa Flamenco Ensemble, Esma Redzepova, Fanfare Ciocarlia, Taraf de Haidouks
Written, directed by Jasmine Dellal
Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
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