Dir: Tony Gatlif
Cert:15 • Fr: 103 min • Princes Films • February 11, 2013 (DVD)
“I want to be like happy people.”
That was the moment this film had me. As Italian born Zingerina is held by best friend Maria, tears streaming down her face, caressing the unborn child in her belly and mourning the love she has been refused by her ex boyfriend, I felt her pain, and I was hooked on this strange but beautiful film.
I have a fondness for independent and foreign language films, instead of the blockbusters we’re fed from the Hollywood machine, so how I missed Transylvania on its release in 2006 I have no idea. All I can say is thank god for this well deserved DVD release, or this gem would never have ended up in front of me.
Our story follows an Italian girl, Zingerina, who travels to Transylvania with her best friend and a young female guide, to find her deported musician boyfriend, who left her pregnant when he was sent back to his home country.
Award winning director Tony Gatlif presents us with a a stunningly layered film that draws on bags of raw emotion and wild gypsy energy. Presented in English, French, Italian, Romany and I’m pretty sure German at one point, the use of native tongues is beautiful, and makes the whole affair feel almost documentary-like, something that Gatlif is a master of. The beautiful Italian actress Asia Argento is intoxicating as Zingerina, desperate in her search for the man she loves. When he is not all he seems, her derailment is fascinating. Seeing her run through a beautifully primitive pagan festival after her first encounter with the much talked about Milan (played by Marco Castoldi) is a particular visual high, tears streaming down her face, the almost trip like garish colours flashing before us, as she throws herself into the arms of several gypsies, to take comfort in their embrace.
I also relished seeing her intoxicated in a local bar, smashing plate by plate. At times restless and wild, others introverted and depressed, as the film progresses she slowly unravels, leading the gypsy community to think she needs a priest, not a doctor. Her new companion and gypsy merchant Tchangalo, is portrayed brilliantly by German actor Birol Unel, and through their tempestuous relationship there are moment of real soul, as these two lonely travellers find comfort in eachother. From her breakdown in the stunningly barren woods, to a botched sexual encounter and a captivating Romanian exorcism, this is not your big standard road trip, and the film is all the better for it.
Transylvania, like many of Gatlifs films, is a beautiful study of Gypsy life, and as Zingerina takes comfort in the lifestyle and the ritual, dressing herself in traditional gypsy clothing, we see her transform from a tragic figure to a content woman
Visually rough and ready, the cinematography captures the wild beauty of its subjects (along with both the actors and scenery), and makes Transylvania a moving experience. This is a film about finding happiness not in the places you are looking but inside of you, quite literally in the case of Zingerina’s unborn child. Beautifully paced, shot and acted, especially by the fearless powerhouse that is Argento, this is a thrill for anyone who enjoys their films slow, brooding and beautifully honest. As always, Argento is a treat, and is well matched by her co-stars in this beautiful study of the journey to contentment. Transylvania is a must for fans of independent or foreign film, fans of Argento, and anyone that’s looking for something real.