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
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