Zingarina (Asia Argento) arrives in Transylavania, accompanied by her close friend Marie (Amir Casar) and her guide and interpreter Luminitsa (Alexandra Beaujard). She is looking for her ex lover Milan (Marco Castoldi), a musician who has made her pregnant and who suddenly disappeared from France - possibly deported as an illegal migrant. When she finds him, he brutally rejects her and the shattered Zingarina abandons her two companions and runs off with Vandana (Mariana Rus) a wandering Gyspy girl. Her destiny changes when she meets up with Tchangalo (Birol Ünel), a Gypsy-like traveling trader, who takes her under his wing. But their journey is not without trouble.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Tony Gatlif's work is an acquired taste and I've been a fan for years, as he weaves music through his tales of Gypsies and wonderers who enchant or bedevil all who meet then. Including us. Gadjo Dilo, Swing and the less successful Vengo all zing with a melancholy but irrepressible zest for life as lived by the underworld of Gypsies.
This story is set in the Transylvania of the title, a region where Rumania meets southern Hungary, remote and ancient, unsophisticated but vibrant. Young French woman Zingarina (Asia Argento) makes a great protagonist for Gatlif, herself more untamed than her French urban environment and a perfect fit for the people she encounters in her search for love. She finds it hidden in the most unlikely place.
The film - like all Gatlif's films - is a primarily a road movie driven by the music and the characters. Sometimes, the road lead somewhere, but sometimes it doesn't - like in this film. A trifle disappointing and jerky, Transylvania seems to run out of puff pretty quickly and is maintained only by the energy and enthusiasm of a wonderfully charismatic cast - and I refer to everyone, not just the leads.
The mood, the music and the melancholy remain true to Gatlif's signature, but there is a sense of incompleteness about the film which detracts from it. Surprising, then, that it closed the Cannes film festival ...
Review by Louise Keller:
Perhaps Tony Gatlif's oddest film to date, Transylvania is a kind of road trip with so few borders that it's easy to get lost along the way. The plot is as obtuse as its mix of languages (French, Romanian, English, Hungarian and Italian), and the imagery is constantly surprising. A woman and a man: she's looking for love, he's looking for gold. Theirs is an unlikely pact and their relationship is unfathomable. Less engaging than Gatlif's Gadjo Dilo or Swing (my two favourites), Transylvania nonetheless offers one constant which is the inclusion of his trademark vibrant gypsy music soundtrack.
'We're all one family in Transylvania,' Birol Ünel's lone wanderer Tchangalo tells Asia Argento's love-lorn Zingarina whose pregnancy marks the film's time span. They are a striking couple, journeying through the snowy, barren landscape, making pit stops along the way. They have sex by a dumpster but are interrupted by a bear looking for food; there's a lit chandelier hanging on an electric wire by a tree; there's a ritual involving chanting and milk; there's a boxing encounter with a feather pillow in the middle of the street. Argento is sultry and beguiling, complemented by Ünel's physicality.
The film is cinematic and life affirming, but I found myself becoming more and more distanced from the characters and the plot. Gatlif is a fine filmmaker, but by the film's conclusion, my frustration was paramount. I longed for the melancholy of his previous outings, and although Transylvania offers some fascinating moments, they are too few in what is overall a disappointing journey.
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CAST: Asia Argento, Amira Casar, Birol Ünel, Alexandra Beaujard, Marco Castoldi, Bea Palya
DIRECTOR: Tony Gatlif
SCRIPT: Tony Gatlif
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Celine Bozon
EDITOR: Monique Dartonne
MUSIC: Tony Gatlif, Delphine Mantoulet
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Brigitte Brassart
RUNNING TIME: 103 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Potential
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Brisbane: January 31, 2008; Melbourne: April 24, 2008