Blesok no. 91, July-August, 2013

Mission: Finding the Gypsy Within

Ermira Kamberi

Niobe Thompson’s review of Tony Gatlif’s Gadjo Dilo follows the historical pattern of division that separates the Roma from the non-Roma. Living disconnected from one another and with very few (if any) touching points, the reality of this relationship protrudes the way this movie is seen and understood. Namely, Thompson illustrates a non-Roma viewing of the movie without voicing the Roma as spectators. After all, the movie is about a non-Roma meeting the Roma culture, an adventure that uncovers the secret desire of non-Roma to take a peak into the fascinating lives of the Roma. Even though she emphasizes the existing gulf in understanding that separates the two, she does not develop any concrete argument about whether this movie impacts the size of the gulf.
In her article, Thompson takes a standpoint on one side of the gulf instead of hovering in the middle in order to overlook both sides. She relies on the romanticized and, as we will see later, comforting views about the Roma when presenting her arguments from a non-Roma perspective. Here is the first image she portrays: “This film seemed to crown Gatlif’s achievements as an interpreter of Romani (gypsy) culture, finally taking us beyond the stoop and right into bed with the fiddle – playing, horse – rustling, dark – skinned nomads lurking in their wagon camps on the fringes of Fortress Europe.”
Gadjo Dilo." CER: Central Europe Review. 27 Nov. 2000. Web. 25 Oct. 2011. ">[1] This is where she establishes the division between us and them and every argument that follows is about “how us uncover them” through Stephane’s character. This is a revelation of the “orientalist” fascinations comfortably projected in Roma culture, as Thompson states: “… we are confronted with a refugee from our own, flawed cultures, seeking a silver truth in exotic and foreign surroundings, establishing contact with the ‘other’ and preparing to return with his own pillaged treasure – an Elgin Marble to illuminate our lives.”Gadjo Dilo.">[2] Clearly, she sympathizes with Stephane’s mission and further enhances the exotic nature of his adventure by including a few allusions to the sex scenes and describing the moment of meeting the Roma as a moment of transfer to shamanic ecstasy. In addition, she emphasizes the importance of acculturation in order to gain access to the community and most importantly, Thompson vividly depicts the disappointment with the protagonist for destroying the tapes. For her, this is a “slap on the hand” and ultimately, a moment of awakening for those who only intend to consume the Roma for what pleases them most – their music. Thompson shows true concern and empathy towards the Roma in the last few paragraphs pointing out the danger of objectifying them. This is rather a peculiar change in tone because what she actually does previously in her article is exactly that – objectifying the Roma. With this change in tone, it is not clear whether she wrote the article with an intention to show that this gulf of understanding will remain in its existing state or whether this cinematic approach of addressing the issue of discrimination has a positive learning impact on non-Roma.
Although I do not find fault in Thompson’s decision to present her arguments from the perspective of the non-Roma viewer, I find her approach problematic when she includes herself as part of this group and not as an outside voice that relegates to the readers her observations. Her approach becomes particularly problematic at the end when she is trying to enforce a greater idea about the movie and she does it with little credibility. She fails to build credibility in her article because in all of her arguments she is using stereotypical images that are partly already within the imagination of the viewers (including herself) and partly enforced in the movie. She objectifies the Roma through myriad of phrases I’ve mentioned earlier creating the image of the “other” - the untamed self, the child, the free spirit, and everything that has been inhibited within the non-Roma as dictated by society and social expectations, the lost inner “gypsy”. In essence, this article is about the escapade from the mundane reality and rediscovering the “gypsy” within.
Although vaguely mentioned, the issue of Stephane’s acculturation deserves more attention. Ian Hancock, a Romani scholar, has written extensively on the inaccessibility of Roma culture resulting in the historical collision between Roma and non-Roma. According to him, there are seven reasons because of which Roma have not been welcomed in the society: the view of the Roma as foreign intruders and non-Christians, their physical appearance, the exclusionary nature of the Roma culture, the way Roma led their lives, the creation of a “gypsy” image, the fact that Roma made themselves an easy target for scapegoatism, and the vague understanding of non-Roma about the Roma origins.[3] I believe that a shift of discussion in this direction could make some of her last arguments more credible and strengthen the moment of awakening within the non-Roma viewer when Stephane destroys the tapes. Given the title of her article, one would expect that Thompson would focus on the meaning of destroying the tapes (closing vs. extending the gulf) instead of getting entangled in stereotypical imagery. One of the main ideas that Gatlif is trying to show all viewers is the hypocrisy and selfishness of selective appreciation of cultural traits. Roma are best known for their music and these tapes are treasure for those who seek to find the gypsy within them. But, that’s all most of them want. Each viewer hears himself or herself shout when Stephane destroys the tapes (“No! Not the tapes!”), but almost no one shouts when the homes of the Roma are burnt down. The gypsy community existing as such is not needed and might as well be destroyed. This approach of juxtaposing responses to different things Stephane does is the way in which Gatlif emphasizes the hypocritical fascination with the Roma.
One can clearly see the universality of these ideas in other exotic cultures. This is not only referring to the Roma but to every culture where one is trying to rediscover the inhibited self. Many would like to free this “self” by stealing a print of another culture without appreciating it within the community and as delivered by the community in which they find it. This is how understanding cultures becomes a vicious circle with the gulf never fully closed.


1. Thompson, Niobe. "Understanding the Gulf: Tony Gatlif's Gadjo Dilo." CER: Central Europe Review. 27 Nov. 2000. Web. 25 Oct. 2011. .
2. Thompson, Niobe. "Understanding the Gulf: Tony Gatlif's Gadjo Dilo."
3. Hancock, Ian. We are the Romani People. Hertfordshire: University of Hertfordshire Press, 2002. Print. p. 54-63

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