Gypsies, squatting on the edge of assimilation, nomadic in the New York night, too full of wild blood and genetic memory to belong to anywhere, are the focus of "Angelo My Love," a pseudo-documentary by Robert Duvall.
Duvall's inspiration for this disorienting, disquieting film is a frighteningly precocious, cocksure little charmer -- Angelo Evans, who plays himself. Angelo was eight, a miniature John Travolta, when Duvall spotted him on Columbus Avenue passing out handbills for his mother's fortune-telling parlor. The kid took Duvall by the gut. Encouraged by his wife, producer Gail Youngs, and his friend Horton Foote (who wrote "Tender Mercies"), Duvall wrote the screenplay and directed the film himself.
It doesn't much matter that he wrote the screenplay, for it's a token: a thin gold chain hung with slice-of-life vignettes, some concocted by the Gypsies themselves, who are mostly illiterates and couldn't read the script. They ad-libbed. Sometimes the result is stupendous, sometimes as baffling as divining by tea leaves.
Often, real events in the Evans' life were worked into the plot as they were happening. The wedding of Angelo's brother Michael, for instance, was written in along with his bargaining for his 15-year-old bride. He buys her for $8,000 and gets a $600 rebate. But most of the film rather loosely concerns Angelo and his brother's attempt to get back a ring, a family heirloom that would come to Angelo but is stolen by a Russian Gypsy named Patalay.
Villain Patalay Tsigonoff, played by himself, has a nose three times bigger than Karl Malden's. He's an extraordinarily ugly slob and his sister Millie Tsigonoff, who plays his heckling wife, is also exotically repugnant. She's covered in golden, dangling jewelry, her skin is ravaged and her hair is bleached orange where it isn't turning white. Olive Oyl loves Bluto: The couple makes a noisy, vibrant pair, Catholic to the bone, like the rest of the tribe.
Lavish displays of faith before the nave, however, can't offset our impression that there is no honor among Gypsies. It's fascinating to close in on these disturbing aliens among us, who steal our chickens and take our welfare checks while ignoring our rules. They don't want to be Gaje (American), but Rom, short for Romany, their legendary ancestral home.
The tribe wanders, like the film, confusing fact with fiction, sometimes speaking English, sometimes Gypsy (with subtitles). A confrontation between mother and son captures the ambivalence: Mrs. Evans asks Angelo, "Which you want to be? Gaje or Gypsy?" And Angelo answers, squirming deeper into the crushed velvet, plastic- covered sofa cushions: "Both."
"Angelo My Love," Duvall's second time out as a director, plays like a loud, Gypsy love song sung under fluorescent stars beside a Sony campfire. ANGELO MY LOVE -- At the Inner Circle.