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'Latcho Drom' (NR)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 31, 1994

For centuries the Gypsies have traveled the Earth, taking with them only what they could carry on their backs. But by the end of "Latcho Drom," Tony Gatlif's visually arresting tribute to Gypsy culture, you may feel as if you've walked every single mile with them.

Plotless and without dialogue, "Latcho Drom" -- which translates as "Safe Journey" -- traces Gypsy music back through all its origins and permutations.

The movie shows Gypsies as a scorned people who are run out of pastures and apartments as undesirables. Some are so poor that in one eastern European locale they are forced to endure the winter living high up in the branches of trees. For many of them, music is their one true resource. Passed on from generation to generation, their songs function as a sort of folk history. Ageless and at the same time flexible enough to include comment on recent politics (as one Romanian ballad about Ceaucescu illustrates), the music changes with each country, along with the styles of the people too. But, as the movie points out, the song remains essentially the same.

Strangely enough, though, "Latcho Drom" is both too much of the same thing and too little. Skipping briskly from one part of the globe to another, the picture works a vast canvas, and yet each stop is so short that the brief immersion we're given feels superficial and unsatisfying. It's like "The Gypsies' Greatest Hits." At the same time, the film seems endlessly long. If the filmmakers had singled out a single area and explored it in greater depth, their findings might have been more illuminating, and their movie equal to the richness and diversity of their subject.

Latcho Drom is unrated.

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