GYPSY CARAVAN (Jasmine Dellal). 110 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (August 17). Rating: NNN
Gypsy Caravan wants to be the Buena Vista Social Club of the Romany musical tradition. And while it may never bring mainstream popularity to their sound an eclectic mashup of folk, klezmer, jazz and flamenco the film does succeed quite well in explaining the music and the unique culture that creates it.
Director Jasmine Dellal follows five Romany bands from around the world on a six-week U.S. concert tour. The performance footage is top-notch; one of the cameramen is legendary documentarian Albert Maysles , who with his late brother David shot some pretty famous concert footage of the Beatles and Rolling Stones, and he does an equally memorable job here.
Macedonian singer Esma Redzepova, the so-called Queen of the Gypsies, is a force of nature, a belter who's been compared to Big Mama Thornton, Etta James and Edith Piaf, and rightly so. And a certain Hollywood swashbuckler with a Gypsy attitude pops up to praise the virtuoso skills of the Romanian group Taraf de Haïdouks.
While the interview footage of the performers in their hometowns is occasionally fascinating and enlightening, it's not nearly as much fun as the ride on the tour bus, where it seems endless miles of asphalt can't keep these performers from singing, dancing and telling tales.