Frustrated with the monotony of their lives in Paris Zano (Romain Duris) and Naima (Lubna Azabal) decide to rediscover their roots embarking on a journey from the French capital all the way to the heart of Algeria. Along the way the two drifters will face the grim reality of a world devastated by poverty, the rich history of a nation now living amidst ruins, and a past they never knew existed.
A magical journey to a land forgotten by God Tony Gatlif's Exiles (2004) is quite possibly the film that should have won the coveted Palm d'Or award at the Cannes Film Festival two years ago. Instead the jury only partially recognized this exceptionally well-made film by granting Gatlif the Best Director Award.
Following a tradition he started long ago with his classic Latcho Drom (1993), Gadjo Dilo (1997), and Vengo (2000) Gatlif has filled Exiles with indescribably beautiful music mixing gypsy tunes with Spanish flamenco, complimented with authentic Algerian folklore, and some intoxicating modern electronica creating one of the most exotic soundtracks I have heard in quite some time. Indeed the soundtrack alone would have been a solid enough reason to recommend Exiles to those interested in Gatlif's work.
It is the story however that truly transforms Exiles into a hypnotizing experience. A road picture that takes its audience to some of the most unusual locations between Spain and Algeria this film truly has it all. From what I could gather after having seen Exiles three times already Tony Gatilf has reached to the bottom of his soul and simply poured everything he ever wanted to say about his gypsy-Algerian heritage on negative: frustration and pain, anger and joy, tears for his devastated homeland.
When I first saw Gatlif's Latcho Drom I thought that he will never be able to recreate that special ethnic environment Emir Kusturica mastered in his Dom za Vesanje a.k.a The Time of the Gypsies (1988). But then Gatlif went on to produce Gadjo Dilo, Vengo, and Swing and I became addicted to his unique style. I could not get enough of his raw camera work that would often remind me how beautiful cinema can be.
In Exiles Gatlif has arguably reached the final stop of his career as a filmmaker. The story is virtually stripped of any unneeded dialog, the music is as enthralling as anything I have heard from Gatlif, and the vistas captured through his camera are practically indescribable in simple words. Algeria, the main protagonists' forgotten motherland, is also fascinating to behold. Revealing a world where youth has long ago abandoned its country what Gatlif brings to the screen is quite different than what you would see in the shiny brochures your travel agency is likely to promote. Yet, even amidst all the dirty roads, the half-crumbled homes, and the weary faces of people living by the day Exiles remains a spiritual film that manages to remain utterly gorgeous.
For many walking from Paris to Algeria would probably seem like madness. Yet, in Exiles it all makes perfect sense. For two people who have never been able to connect with their roots going back to the place where their parents once started a journey of hope becomes the only way in which they can remember.
Official site and trailer:
In 2004 the film was granted the Best Director Award (Tony Gatlif) at the Cannes Film Festival and a Cesar nomination for Best Music Written for Film (Tony Gatlif/ Delphine Mantoulet).
How Does the DVD Look?
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV's Exiles looks exceptionally well. After being initially announced for a January (2006) release by Home Vision Entertainment the film was shelved for a couple of months and I was afraid that this may result in being a cheap PAL port of some sort. Fortunately, Image have provided a sparkling print for the film and the good news is that it has been flagged properly. Colors are bright and vivid, contrast is very convincing, and the print is free of any damage. I was able to spot a few minor instances of edge enhancement that appear mostly during a few of the scenes before the main characters enter Algeria but these are quite manageable. Detail is also very impressive (take a look at the scene where Naima touches the big scar on Zano's foot) and I am pleased with the manner the film has been transferred. Indeed, this R1 presentation fares quite well with the already available French and Australian discs.
How Does the DVD Sound?
This will probably sound like quite a shock for some of you that already acquired the R4 disc but Image have decided to surprise most everyone here (including me) by providing a thunderous DTS track that truly elevates Exiles to another level. While such option is not present even on the French release I am not only delighted by flattered to see (and hear) that for once R1 gets it right down to the smallest detail. With an exceptional degree of clarity this French DTS track (combining all sorts of Spanish jargon, Arabic dialects, and a bit of Romanian) provides what this film needed: a panorama of colorful sounds. I strongly urge you to see the final scene of this film which I do NOT want to describe to you with the DTS track on. The result is absolutely mind-blowing!! As always my only complain is that it would have been much better if we had white subtitles instead of yellow ones but suffice to say I am pleased that at least they are not as big as the ones SONY have recently unleashed for their catalog films. With optional English subtitles.
The only extras on this DVD are the original French theatrical trailer for Exiles and a standard Making-Of documentary where we are offered extra footage from the locations where the film was shot. I would not say that this is enough for Exiles but truth be told I am happy that the overall presentation is so good.
If you have not seen any of Tony Gatlif's films by now I think it is fare to say that you have missed on one of the most innovative directors currently working in Europe. I don't think that there is another director that matches the manner in which ethnicity and culture are represented in his films. The raw visual power that Gatlif is able to channel through his camera is absolutely breathtaking. I always thought that the gypsy culture which is such a predominant element in the films of Kusturica and Gatlif, and a most unique aspect these European directors share, would have been a good enough reason for Criterion to license some of their classic films but…C'est La Vie!