Gypsy Caravan (a.k.a. When the Road Bends: Tales of a Gypsy Caravan)

(2007) *** Unrated
111 min. Shadow Distribution. Director: Jasmine Dellal. Cast: Esma Redzepova, Antonio El Pipa Flemenco Ensemble, Johnny Depp, Maharaja, Taraf de Haidouks.

"We sing with fire and heart in our souls." This observation by one Romani gentleman sums up Gypsy Caravan, a delightful documentary/concert film directed by Jasmine Dellal and shot primarily by the legendary Albert Maysles. Five bands from four countries make up the Gypsy Caravan, a six-week North American concert tour with a generous profusion of styles: Raga, Flamenco, jazz, and traditional Indian and Romanian folk. As the weeks fly by, camaraderie grows between the artists, as does our affection for them. Throughout, they share frustration at persecution and hardship, but also joy in tradition and, of course, live-giving music.

The featured artists, whose talents straddle song and dance, include larger-than-life Macedonian "Queen of the Gypsies" Esma Redzepova, India-based Maharajah (spotlighting cross-dressing Rajasthani knee dance expert Harish), whimsical Romanian brass band Fanfare Ciocarlia, Antonio El Pipa Flamenco Ensemble (with its titular dance star and his potently throaty aunt Juana la del Pipa) from Andalucia, and Taraf De Haïdouks ("band of brigands"), the dozen-strong Romanian folk group who appeared alongside Johnny Depp in Sally Potter's The Man Who Cried (in fact, Depp appears here to cheerlead for the Gypsies).

To best enjoy the energetic and big-hearted Gypsy Caravan, know that it's not so much a concert film as it is a cultural-anthropology documentary, taking viewers from tour stages to the home cities and villages (and the kitchens and living quarters!) of the artists. More unbroken performances would benefit the film but also considerably expand the running time. Dellal understandably chooses to make the concert-film side a sampler (viva the DVD extra!), the better to provide context and, more importantly, do what any good performer does: leave the audience wanting more.

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