- Director: Tony Gatlif
- Genre: War drama
- Run Time: 111 minutes
With: Marc Lavoine, Marie-Josée Croze, James Thierree, Mathias Laliberte
In French and Romani with English subtitles
Tony Gatlif’s opening credits Korkoro appear in an image common to many Holocaust films: a close-up of barbed wire stretched between wooden poles, with rows of internment camp barracks linger in the background. And then, improbably, the barbed wire starts to vibrate like the plucked strings of a harp, and a simple piece of music comes out, more playful than the frame ever seems to warrant. Rest assured, what follows is not a tasteless WWII musical. But the dynamic spirit of the film won’t be extinguished easily, either.
For Gatlif, a French director of Algerian origin of Roma ethnicity, a film always begins and ends with music. The Gypsy sound has long been a cornerstone of Gatlif’s work, whether explicitly brought to the fore as in his groundbreaking 1993 music documentary. Latcho Drom, or used to frame dramatic scenarios like those of the years 1997 Gadjo Dilo, or in Vengo, his 2000 tribute to flamenco dance. Korkoro addresses the sinister subject of the persecution of Gypsies in Nazi-occupied France, but the music is inescapable, even emanating from the clatter of buckets and wagon wheels as a clan weaves its way through the countryside.
Throughout his career, Gatlif’s critical line on the making of feature films has remained constant: brilliant ethnographer, suspicious playwright. These trends are again evident in Korkoro, which marries a vibrant and moving celebration of Gypsy culture with an assortment of clichés from war films that replace Vichy France. It’s a project obviously close to Gatlif’s heart – and a rare cinematic tribute to the 250,000 to 500,000 Roma who were killed in the Holocaust – but passion alone doesn’t sell a drama that loses its authenticity each time. once he gets away from the tribe.
Simply meaning “freedom” in Rome, Korkoro follows a close-knit group of 15 people who follow an annual tradition and travel to French vineyards for harvest time. Once there, however, the townspeople are unable to give them work due to a new law prohibiting their nomadic paths. The law made the Roma vulnerable to persecution, but they obtained the support of two influential residents: Théodore (Marc Lavoine), mayor and veterinarian of the city, who rewards them for coming to his aid after a horse had him. attacked; and Miss Lundi (Marie-Josée Croze), a teacher who is keen to educate her children.
Although Theodore makes extraordinary efforts – in film terms, Schindlerian – to protect the Gypsies by ceding his domain to them as shelter, the Gypsies can only resist persecution for a period of time. What starts out as simple harassment over passport stamps and “trespassing” gradually turns into a vicious campaign to round them up and mix them up in an internment camp. As they quickly discover, the new law legitimizes old prejudices long before the arrival of the Nazis.
Gatlif treats the Gypsies as a syncopated unit tighter than a motley collection of individuals; when all but one are temporarily out of the camp, they remain frozen in despair until the missing person joins the group. The only character that stands out is a relentless clown man-child named Taloche (James Thierree), but only as a symbol of the unstoppable spirit of an entire people.
Elsewhere, Gatlif offers a smeared-cheeked orphan straight out of Dickens, gives Miss Monday a double life as a member of the Resistance, and pursues an attempted romance between her and Theodore. All this robs Gatlif of the thoughtful evocation of Gypsy music and customs and of his just anger at the French and Nazi collusion against the Roma during the war. Korkoro shapes a fine tapestry from the authentic and the chintzy.