Exils (Tony Gatlif). 104 minutes. Opens Friday (July 14). Subtitled. For venues and times, see Movies, page 89. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
In Exils, Tony Gatlif (Gadjo Dilo, Latcho Drom) pursues his obsessions with world music and cultural displacement to their logical conclusion: a nearly wordless hybrid of travelogue and music video.
He won best director at Cannes last year for this story tracking two expat Algerian Euro-bohos (Romain Duris , Lubna Azabal ) who take it into their heads to walk from their home in Paris to their country of origin. The trip takes place with a minimum of dialogue and a maximum of sound collage: an evening in a Spanish bar turns into an extended journey through the history of flamenco; a lonely walk down a street littered with bottles becomes a solo for feet and glass chimes. When there's nothing else going on aurally, out come the iPods, merging techno with ambient sound.
The sound design is impressive, and the musical performances are well worth seeing, but the characters are icky. While their orphaned, impoverished, alienated backstories inspire sympathy, their groovy hippy posturing doesn't; you wouldn't want to be stuck in an elevator with them. And it's surprising and discomfiting how fine the line can be between the quest for one's own roots and indulgence in National Geographic-style cultural voyeurism.
Gatlif's preferred hero is the crazy foreigner, always on the outside looking in. But does the fact of his own half-Roma, half-Algerian background give people from other cultures a licence to ooh and aah at the picturesquely decontextualized folk traditions of his subjects?