Ten year old Max (Oscar Copp) is an only child and is smitten by Manouche (Gypsy) jazz when he hears the guitar virtuoso Miraldo (Tchavolo Schmitt) play, in the Manouche neighbourhood of Strasbourg. He buys an old guitar and asks Miraldo to teach him. He is captivated by Swing (Lou Rech), a young gypsy girl, who is the same age as he is. He is fascinated by her charisma, self confidence and freedom and is drawn to the Manouche neighbourhood where music is an integral part of life.
Review by Louise Keller:
A fascinating insight into gypsy music and culture, Swing is a rich film that cries out with joie de vivre. If you have seen Tony Gatlif’s Gadjo Dilo or the more recent Vengo, you will know of the filmmaker’s passion for this culture that is slowly disappearing. Settle back and enjoy the wonderful jazz, the melodic and rhythmic gypsy music that is called Manouche. We enter the gypsy culture with and through the eyes of a ten year old boy, who is subliminally drawn to the relaxed lifestyle and exuberant expressions of the soul through music. Music is an integral part of life in what is essentially an oral culture, while Max comes from a background where the written word (reading and writing) is the ultimate form of expression. The bond of friendship between Max and Swing is joyous and filled with fun: Max is exposed to the earthy rhythms and unstructured lifestyle, while Swing becomes more aware of her femininity. There’s a wonderful feeling of absolute happiness when we watch them running, fishing, playing together. What a team they make, as Swing fishes with her hands, while Max stamps his feet and disturbs the water so the fish cannot see. As Swing bewitches Max with her infectious smile and laugh, we are also captivated. We are privy to being part of a world where money does not make the rules. It’s all about trade: Max trades his discman for a guitar and his lessons are in exchange for his skills in writing a letter. But the cultures are far apart, and when Max gives Swing his most valued possession – his written memories of the summer – it means nothing to her. There’s plenty of heart in this vibrant tale, and then of course, there’s the music. Magnificent guitar playing and emotion jolting jam sessions with violin, trombone, double bass and clarinet. These sessions are held in the tiny confines of a caravan, but space cannot contain the vitality. Through his friendship with the Manouche culture, Max learns more than just playing the guitar. He learns about herbal remedies and how wild flowers and leaves can relieve stings and headaches, but most importantly becomes a part of a free culture, albeit only for a short while. Oscar Copp and Lou Rech are stunning as the two children – much of the charm of the film comes from the natural rapport and exchanges between them. Tchavolo Schmitt is marvellous and the poignant scene when Hélène Mershtein reveals details of her internment in a concentration camp will touch you deeply. The music is the central character, and we feel enriched by the encounter.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Tony Gatlif has dedicated four films now to Gyspy culture, in a desperate and deeply felt attempt to preserve what there is left of it. So much has been destroyed, mostly by the Nazis, yet so much of it is invincible, as we see here. The soul of a Gypsy is kept safe in life affirming music, and Gatlif points our ears and our hearts in the right direction: he needs little by way of directing in a traditional filmmaking sense. The setup here is the outsider, a 10 year old white kid, Max, whose single mother is forever busy in her own world. Happening into the Manouch heighbourhood, he is smitten by the sounds of the guitar, with its rhythm and melodies all wrapped up in an irresistible outpouring of something he can’t quite define, nor does he have to. It stirs us all. The relationships that develop between Max, the guitar player/teacher Miraldo (Tchavolo Schmidt) and between Max and Swing (Lou Rech) hold us entranced. Swing’s blossoming under Max’s attention from a clear cut tomboy (Max mistakes her for a boy early on) to a striking, exotic young beauty is enchanting. The atmosphere and ambiance Gatlif portrays effortlessly take us to the place, and the humanity he captures on camera is both uplifting and tragic. Although my favourite Gatlif film remains Gadjo Dilo, Swing has great appeal. It’s a gentle, simple film with the style of documentary – and a heart of gold.
Email this article
CAST: Oscar Copp, Lou Rech, Tchavolo Schmitt, Mandino Reinhardt, Abdellatif Chaarani, Fabienne Mai, Ben Zimet, Hélène Mershtein
PRODUCER: Princes Films
DIRECTOR: Tony Gatlif
SCRIPT: Tony Gatlif
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Claude Garnier
EDITOR: Monique Dartonne
MUSIC: Abdellatif Chaarani, Tony Gatlif, Mandino Reinhardt, Tchavolo Schmitt
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Denis Mercier
OTHER: French with English Subtitles
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Potential Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 28, 2002 (Sydney/Melbourne)