Transylvania – dir. Tony Gatlif – 2006 – France
When looking at cinema with the auteur theory at work, it’s always reassuring to find a director returning to the themes that seemed to previously obsess him. Many people have made such assessment to Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park in which the director revisits the ideas behind the films that got people interested in the first place, notably Mala Noche and My Own Private Idaho. With Transylvania, Algerian-born Tony Gatlif does the same, returning to his love and obsession with gypsy culture. More so than his “documentary” Latcho Drom, Transylvania is more accurately a thematic sequel to Gadjo dilo (The Crazy Stranger), his 1997 film in which a Frenchman (Romain Duris) travels to Romania to find a singer who’s become his obsession. Obsession and gypsy culture, particularly music, fuel Transylvania, as three women (Asia Argento, Amira Casar and Alexandra Beaujard) trek to the titular city in search of Argento’s deported lover. Her lover, whom she just discovered is the father of her baby, is naturally a musician, a pianist of Romanian descent.
Transylvania closely aligns itself with The Crazy Stranger more than Latcho Drom or Vengo in their central motives. Whereas Latcho Drom and Vengo capture rhythm and beauty in the movement and music of a group of people, Transylvania and The Crazy Stranger represent a journey. For Gatlif, there appears to be something missing in the heart of the western European and something inherently desirable about this gypsy lifestyle. There’s a purity of life which is never spoken of but suggested through the pursuit and subsequent transformation of French Stéphane (Duris) and Italian Zingarina (Argento). As is expected of Gatlif, Transylvania is exquisitely composed, beautiful and lush, but there seems to be a patronizing quality about returning to the singular theme of western Europeans finding themselves in the east. Perhaps it wouldn’t seem as critical if Transylvania didn’t seem like an almost entire transposition of Argento into Duris’ role. I also wouldn’t suggest watching Transylvania directly after Catherine Breillat’s The Last Mistress, as there’s only so much one can take of Asia Argento mumbling her dialogue whilst writhing in pain. Funny that I have yet another Argento film, Boarding Gate, next on my list of films to see. I’m a masochist.