By Brian Lafferty
June 18, 2011 (San Diego) – After watching Korkoro I fondly recalled the stories of my Uncle John and “the Gypsies.” When my sisters were little, he would warn them about the Gypsies and how they wouldn’t hesitate to snatch them while they slept. If you left root beer outside, maybe my sisters would have a fighting chance.
If only Korkoro was as interesting as these stories.
Little Claude is an orphan. A Gypsy family in World War II France reluctantly takes him in. France has banned all roaming during the wartime. This does not sit well with the nomadic gypsies, who refuse to stay in one place. They and the poor boy are persecuted, at one point being thrown into a concentration camp.
Korkoro could have been an engrossing film but it stumbles during the first twenty minutes and never gathers momentum. No explanation is given for the family’s need to roam. They claim it’s a part of their lifestyle but that’s not a good enough reason for me.
Likewise, no reason is given for France’s anti-roaming laws except that they obviously target gypsies. That still doesn’t explain why gypsies are being persecuted. Director Tony Gatlif apparently has a lot of faith in his audience, expecting them to take everything at face value. He overestimated mine.
Throughout the whole movie I knew nothing about the family. Ratlif gives them no character development nor does he provide any insight into the lives of gypsies. Bland and generic, they lack a unique identity. The one exception is Taloche, who gets increasingly crazy; several times he runs around, throws himself on the ground, and raves like a lunatic.
Instead of being an inspiring film about personal triumph and perseverance, it mires itself in depression. Everyone except the two Resistance fighters treat them badly. The meanness didn’t trouble me. It was the lack of context and character development. The Nazis and the townspeople are portrayed as one-dimensional bigots who hate the gypsies simply because the screenplay demands it.
It’s not just the vapid characters that render Korkoro an unnecessarily downer film, so much as the film’s bleak cinematography. Cinematographer Julien Hirsch brings the film down through a grimy look that demands a bath. He also dims every single possible light source, with the image becoming as murky as a dismal June gloom. There were times when I felt the urge to look away from the screen because the image was so monotonously gloomy.
Korkoro is currently playing at the Reading Gaslamp.
A Lorber Films release. Director: Tony Gatlif. Screenplay: Tony Gatlif. Original Music: Delphine Mantoulet. Cinematography: Julien Hirsch. Cast: Marc Lavoine, Marie-Josée Croze, James Thiérrée. In French with English subtitles. 111 minutes. Unrated.