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Ten year old Max (Oscar Copp) is an only child and is smitten by Manouche (Gypsy) jazz when he hears the guitar virtuoso Miraldo (Tchavolo Schmitt) play, in the Manouche neighbourhood of Strasbourg. He buys an old guitar and asks Miraldo to teach him. He is captivated by Swing (Lou Rech), a young gypsy girl, who is the same age as he is. He is fascinated by her charisma, self confidence and freedom and is drawn to the Manouche neighbourhood where music is an integral part of life.

Review by Louise Keller:
A fascinating insight into gypsy music and culture, Swing is a rich film that cries out with joie de vivre. If you have seen Tony Gatlif’s Gadjo Dilo or the more recent Vengo, you will know of the filmmaker’s passion for this culture that is slowly disappearing. Settle back and enjoy the wonderful jazz, the melodic and rhythmic gypsy music that is called Manouche. We enter the gypsy culture with and through the eyes of a ten year old boy, who is subliminally drawn to the relaxed lifestyle and exuberant expressions of the soul through music. Music is an integral part of life in what is essentially an oral culture, while Max comes from a background where the written word (reading and writing) is the ultimate form of expression. The bond of friendship between Max and Swing is joyous and filled with fun: Max is exposed to the earthy rhythms and unstructured lifestyle, while Swing becomes more aware of her femininity. There’s a wonderful feeling of absolute happiness when we watch them running, fishing, playing together. What a team they make, as Swing fishes with her hands, while Max stamps his feet and disturbs the water so the fish cannot see. As Swing bewitches Max with her infectious smile and laugh, we are also captivated. 

We are privy to being part of a world where money does not make the rules. It’s all about trade: Max trades his discman for a guitar and his lessons are in exchange for his skills in writing a letter. But the cultures are far apart, and when Max gives Swing his most valued possession – his written memories of the summer – it means nothing to her. There’s plenty of heart in this vibrant tale, and then of course, there’s the music. Magnificent guitar playing and emotion jolting jam sessions with violin, trombone, double bass and clarinet. 

These sessions are held in the tiny confines of a caravan, but space cannot contain the vitality. Through his friendship with the Manouche culture, Max learns more than just playing the guitar. He learns about herbal remedies and how wild flowers and leaves can relieve stings and headaches, but most importantly becomes a part of a free culture, albeit only for a short while. Oscar Copp and Lou Rech are stunning as the two children – much of the charm of the film comes from the natural rapport and exchanges between them. Tchavolo Schmitt is marvellous and the poignant scene when Hélène Mershtein reveals details of her internment in a concentration camp will touch you deeply. The music is the central character, and we feel enriched by the encounter.

Lovers of Gypsy Music will enjoy the laid-back feature that encapsulates the rhythms and beats of this expressive artform filmed in pan and scan. The lighting is less than perfect and the film is grainy, but the feeling transmitted cannot be denied: this is the kind of music that is fuel for living. It’s all very spontaneous and unstructured, and part of the interest is the fact that we don’t know what is coming next.

Published September 11, 2003

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CAST: Oscar Copp, Lou Rech, Tchavolo Schmitt, Mandino Reinhardt, Abdellatif Chaarani, Fabienne Mai, Ben Zimet, Hélène Mershtein

DIRECTOR: Tony Gatlif

SCRIPT: Tony Gatlif

OTHER: French with English Subtitles

RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes

PRESENTATION: 16 : 9 anamorphic widescreen; 5.1 audio;

SPECIAL FEATURES: Featurette on Gypsy music; trailers of Latcho Drom, Gadjo Dilo, Vengo


DVD RELEASE: (rental) August 13, 2003 (retail) August 20, 2003

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