Wednesday 1 October 2008

Transylvania (2006)

Far more than just a location for vampire stories, Transylvania is a mecca for folk music and I'm certainly a fan of what I've heard. There's plenty more here in this film by French Algerian director Tony Gatlif. It follows a young French woman called Zingarina who was left pregnant by her Transylvanian musician lover, Milan Agustin when he was deported from France. With a friend and translator she finds her way to Transylvania to track him down, only to find that he wasn't deported after all. He left by choice because he didn't want to be with her any more. He rejects her emphatically and she's left to find direction in a foreign country.

This film works obviously on two fronts: to listen to Transylvanian music and to watch Asia Argento. She has presence in the way that few people nowadays have. She's always watchable, whether she's examining her pregnant belly, breaking plates in some strange drunken dance or getting baptised (or exorcised) in milk. I don't know what the ceremony is realy for. She's even watchable when sleeping rough at the side of Transylvanian roads, or when making love on a car bonnet while a bear rummages through trash mere feet away. The music is everywhere, so much so that you could almost switch off the visuals and just listen to this film. However that would miss some interesting shots and Asia Argento, who is too much to miss on her own.

Apparently the director's attempt to depict ethnic gypsies in a characterful light didn't work to the satisfaction of those who know what they're talking about. I can't tell the difference between a Hungarian gypsy and a Romanian gypsy, but people who live in Transylania can and apparently this film is all mixed up. Thre's no real plot to speak of, so that's hardly a plus point. After her rejection Zingarina chooses to leave her friends without any direction to speak of, and just exists. She befriends a young homeless girl who's too independent to stay with her and ends up with a travelling trader called Tchangalo.

I was surprised to find that Alexandra Beaujard, who plays the interpreter, hasn't done anything else, but Birol Ünel has done plenty. He's Tchangalo the trader and he has both a rough edged charm and a dangerous streak that would serve him well in many a part. Apparently he's Turkish but has gone way beyond the Turkish boundaries to appear in films, his credits being highly international. His only English language film looks like Jean-Jacques Annaud's Enemy at the Gates. Mostly though, watch this for Asia Argento and listen for the folk music by bands like Csavas and Nadara, unless those are the communities who aided the production. I'm not particularly sure.

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