b. 1948, Algiers, Algeria
Vengo is an acclaimed film by Algerian-born French filmmaker of Roma ethnicity Tony Gatlif, which closed the 57th Venice International Film Festival. It is in fact a ‘nonsense’ film made up of a series of wonderful performances by flamenco and non-flamenco artists, with Orestes Villasan Rodríguez as the star of this intense musical. On one hand, it is interesting to see Gatlif ’s use of the orientalist fantasies that have characterised stories set in a mythological Andalusia ever since Mérimée’s Carmen: bandits, smugglers, borders, doomed love, prostitutes, marginality, crime. The innovation that disrupted all points of view is Orestes: his anti-normative walking is, in itself, the leitmotif and main metaphor of the film. Suffice to say that the final script was written after most of the footage had been filmed. With a manifesto-like power, Vengo introduced the disabled hero in a culture (flamenco) with a tradition of dancers with a disability, from Balthasar Maté, ‘El Mate sin pies’ (footless Mate), to the maestro Enrique ‘El cojo’ (the cripple), founder of the Sevillian School of dance. During the entire film, nobody in the world of the marginal Roma draws attention to Orestes’ supposed impairment. His disability is discriminating only within mainstream society and the welfare state, something which Vengo subtly criticises. For this reason, Orestes has been described as a ‘corrective factor’ for our perception, and the key to the film.
Tony Gatlif is the quintessential Roma filmmaker, with a long list of masterful films behind him, including the medium-length Canta gitano and the feature Corre Gitano, both released in 1982 and both featuring Mario Maya; Les Princes (1983), produced by Gérard Lebovici and promoted by Guy Debord; Latcho Drom (1993); Mondo (1995); and Gadjo dilo (1997), singular masterpieces on the understanding of the world of the Roma, ‘gypsy’ or gitano – terms that are synonymous but also different – and Transilvania (2006), Gatlif ’s – pure rhetoric! – take on horror films.