Saturday, May 15, 2010


Review: Liberté
FROM The Gazette May 7, 2010

Tony Gatlif's Liberté is nothing if not ambitious. The Algerian-born, France-based filmmaker has spent much of his career chronicling the Gypsy peoples of the world -most notably with Latcho Drom in 1993 - and, for his latest picture, he has taken a shot at capturing one of the darkest moments in their history.

In the written coda at the end of this beautiful, moving piece, Gatlif reminds us of this oft-forgotten tragedy: between 250,000 and 500,000 of the nearly 2 million Gypsies in Europe were exterminated by the Nazis in concentration camps during the Second World War.

The sheer horror of that statistic makes for a daunting challenge for a filmmaker. How do you craft a film that's not simply oppressive in its bleakness? Well, Liberté works because Gatlif somehow manages to create a story full of joy, vibrancy and, yes, darkness. But in the end, this is a tribute to a community that cannot be kept down.

Gatlif also deserves props for not shying away from underlining the French Vichy regime's collaboration with the Gestapo in the rounding up of the Roma Gypsies. Two of the main characters are a French man and woman actively aiding and abetting the Gypsies, but the film also shows plenty of gendarmes only too happy to do the dirty work for the Germans.

This is one powerful flick - which is why it came as no great surprise that it won the Grand Prix des Amériques at last year's Montreal World Film Festival, along with the public-vote award and the Ecumenical Prize.

Set in rural France in 1943 and inspired by real-life people, the film begins with the arrival of a group of Gypsies in a village. The village mayor and veterinarian Théodore (Marc Lavoine) and the town schoolteacher Mademoiselle Lundi (Marie-Josée Croze) are keen to help these new visitors, both by providing them with the paperwork necessary to keep them out of jail and, in Lundi's case, by letting the kids come and be part of her class.

A young orphan boy, P'tit Claude (Mathias Laliberté), is fascinated by these strange characters and wants to be part of the Gypsy family, and he becomes particularly friendly with a goofy, spaced-out violin-playing guy named Taloche (James Thiérrée). For a while, the Gypsies are able to survive in this fragile environment thanks to the help of Théodore and Mademoiselle Lundi, but the French and German authorities keep tightening the noose and it becomes clear that they're just never going to let the Gypsies live in peace.

This is really an ensemble piece with no one character taking the lead and all three main actors - Croze, Lavoine and Thiérrée - are terrific. There is plenty of inspirational Gypsy music here, as usual with Gatlif's films, and the writer-director does a great job of focusing on the details and nuance of everyday life.

Sadly, Seville Pictures has decided to open this award-winning flick on only one lonely screen, at the Beaubien in Rosemont. Nor can you see a copy with English sub-titles.

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