swing (2002)


director: tony gatlif

oscar copp, lou rech, tchavolo schmitt, mandino reinhardt

Summer vacations, for a pre-teen, are the last magical moments in oneís life, and Tony Gatlifís Swing will fail or succeed depending on how well it matches your memories of those magic summer months.

Max (Oscar Copp) is first seen timidly venturing into the gypsy neighbourhood of a small Alsace town, intent on buying a guitar. Heís staying with his grandmother for the summer, and has fallen for the exuberant jazz played by French gypsies since the 30s, when it was made famous by the guitarist Django Reinhardt. He meets a gypsy girl named Swing (Lou Rech) and falls in love, while taking guitar lessons from her uncle (Tchavolo Schmitt).

Itís hard not to be fascinated by the freewheeling but tragic life of European gypsies, a subculture that Gatlif, a gypsy himself, has devoted his career to portraying. In some stubborn part, Swing is a documentary, with frequent unscripted jam sessions - including one where gypsy musicians work out a synthesis of their own music with Arab and Yiddish styles, a hopeful note for a French film, where historic guilt over the gypsy genocide of World War Two mingles with the explosive situation with Arab immigration to France today.

The balance of Gatlifís film concerns the innocent romance between Max and Swing, played out in her familyís caravan, on the industrial fringes of the town, and in the forests outside. Gatlif handles these scenes with a lightness of touch, infusing them with that sense of freedom and longing thatís usually all that remains when you canít remember the last time you swam in a stream, or were fascinated by nature.

If the scenes with the children are supremely evocative, the world of the adults swings between manic, celebratory drunks and abiding melancholy. You can either call this a telling contrast or a poor fit, depending on how much the world Gatlif depicts charms you. Swing is undeniably loose, a drawback in a thriller, probably, but an advantage for a film that tries to capture a fleeting moment as delicate as light on a pond.