Mondo

Weekly Alibi

DIRECTED BY: Tony Gatlif

REVIEWED: 04-30-97

In 1993, European director Tony Gatlif gave us Latcho Drom, the near wordless documentary about gypsy life, music and dance. With that seamless film, Gatlif proved himself a poet of cinema. Since then, many have been eagerly awaiting his return to the silver screen. 1997 brings the premiere of his newest film, Mondo. The film is based on a story by J.M.G. Le Clezio, the award-winning author of some 27 books. Le Clezio, considered by some to be a master of contemporary French literature, now makes his home in Albuquerque and teaches at the University of New Mexico. By a stroke of good luck, the film is receiving its American premiere right here in Albuquerque. Those who see it will be doing themselves a great favor.

Mondo relates the parable of a 10-year-old homeless boy who wanders onto the streets of Nice, France, one day and proceeds to drift in and out of the lives of its shopkeepers, panhandlers and street performers. The film is luminously shot, imparting a dreamy, post-card glow to the avenues, markets and docks of seaside France. Mondo's greatest grace lies in its freedom from the constraints of plot. Throughout its 80 minute run, we are treated simply to a view of the world as seen through the eyes of this mysterious child. And what a world of small wonders it is: statues stare stone-eyed in an abandoned park, dewdrops glow like diamonds on leaves, sunlight turns a kitchen table the color of gold. Innocence is one of the most honest filters through which we are able to perceive the world around us. Gatlif spins a warm, inviting web around us by showing not only what young Mondo sees, but how he sees it. As Mondo goes about his daily rounds, he sees the ugliness as well as the beauty that surrounds us: dogcatchers hunt down strays, police harass illegal immigrants. "Mondo" means nothing less than "the world," and perhaps that's exactly what Le Clezio's unadorned little fable is trying to show us.

By centering on the exploits of a wide-eyed waif, Mondo could have wandered dangerously into the territory of the cute and mawkish. By casting its protagonist (11-year-old Rumanian gypsy Ovidiu Balan) as a mysterious Peter Pan without a past, Mondo exudes the surrealist air of a modern fairy tale. Thankfully, Mondo imparts its moral without proselytizing. Everything in Mondo is delivered "under the radar." Stepping out of the theater, though, you may find your senses a little sharpened by the whole experience. Your eyes may take in a little more of your environment. Your mind may dwell a little longer on certain vistas. Awareness is perhaps the first step in any sort of understanding. Can we truly understand provincial problems like homelessness or global problems like war without first being aware of them?

It's hard for me to imagine someone being immune to the charms of this exquisite little gift of a film. Mondo is beautifully shot, meticulously realized and perfectly acted by its cast of nonprofessionals. In times to come, I am sure that Mondo will be regarded as a cinematic classic.

--Devin D. O'Leary

Other Films by Tony Gatlif
Gadjo Dilo

Film Vault Suggested Links
Kolya
Irma Vep
French Twist

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