Music is the conduit for repudiating stereotypes and fostering cultural unity in Gypsy Caravan, Jasmine Dellal’s documentary about the titular 2001 U.S. concert tour featuring five diverse gypsy bands from four different countries. With warmth and affection—two adjectives that also describe the film’s intimate cinematography, co-shot by Albert Maysles—the film tags along with the show as it journeys from New York to Los Angeles, the groups’ differing performance styles and nationalities proving only an initial hindrance to comfortable coexistence. Through her lively subjects’ assorted personal stories, Dellal reveals family, community, and legacy to be the primary concerns of these artists. Elder statesman Nicolae plays so he can earn enough to send relatives to college, while famous “Queen of the Gypsies” songstress Esma Redzepova—unable to have children with her husband—adopted and raised 47 poor and/or parentless kids, schooling all of them in Roma customs and eventually including many of them in her backing troupe. The performers’ adherence to tradition varies, from the more conventional 18-man group Taraf de Haidouks (praised by Johnny Depp, who shared a trailer with them during the making of The Man Who Cried) to the more radical Indian ensemble Maharaja, which employs a cross-dressing dancer from a different caste than other members. And this interest in upholding and celebrating history at times also dovetails with pressing economic concerns, such as with Taraf de Haidouks’s use of concert and recording profits to help financially support its small, rural Romanian hometown. Dellal’s matter-of-fact juxtaposition of the artists’ ramshackle villages with their trips to Times Square and California beaches is far more graceful than the film’s awful decision to have the tour manager relate key information about each act via hollow microphone-filtered narration. This one grating structural device, however, isn’t enough to dampen the stirring pride that radiates from Esma’s statement “I never assimilated for anyone,” or from the scenes of disparate gypsy artists coming together, both personally and creatively, in an effort to maintain and honor their much-maligned cultural heritage.
- Shadow Distribution
- 111 min
- Jasmine Dellal
- Jasmine Dellal
- Taraf de Haidouks, Esma Redzepova, Fanfare Ciocarlia, Maharaja, Antonio El Pipa Flamenco Ensemble, George Eli
- Slant is reaching more readers than ever before, but advertising revenue across the Internet is falling fast, hitting independently owned and operated publications like ours the hardest. We’ve watched many of our fellow media sites fall by the way side in recent years, but we’re determined to stick around.
We’ve never asked our readers for financial support before, and we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what we do, however, please consider becoming a Slant patron.
You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal: