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Docurama presents

Gypsy Caravan: When The Road Bends... (2006)

"My songs are full of sadness, happiness, tradition, culture. And it's typical gypsy music. Without any assimilation."- Esma Redzepova

Stars: Taraf de Haidouks, Esma Redzepova, Fanfare Ciocarlia, Maharaja, Antonio El Pipa Flamenco Ensemble
Other Stars: Johnny Depp
Director: Jasmine Dellal

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:51m:05s
Release Date: 2008-08-26
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B+B-B- B-


DVD Review

Gypsy Caravan: When The Road Bends... documents a six-week concert tour in 2001 by five Romani (aka "gypsy") bands from four countries, speaking nine different languages.

To call the tour bus an overcrowded multi-cultural explosion might be an understatement as the bands from Romania, Macedonia, Spain and India get blended together in travel, only to individually erupt onstage as they each get to showcase their own special regional stylings—and if one pays close attention—the similarities.

Director Jasmine Dellal (American Gypsy: A Stranger in Everybody's Land) adopts a largely hands-off approach to any formal narrative storytelling here, instead allowing the cameras to do the fly-on-wall work, capturing the performers themselves, either on the bus, backstage or in segments recorded in their home countries. And with cinematography by heavy hitters Alain de Halleux (Pleure pas Germaine) and Alan Maysles ( Gimme Shelter) there is no shortage on the behind-the-scenes talent department.

The Roma people have struggled with long being societal outcasts wherever they settled, and the popular misconceptions of the gypsy people is part of what the tour was trying to displace. They have a proud bond between them no matter where they're from, and while Dellal alternates between the appreciative crowds swallowing the culturally entwined concerts with eager glee, the groups seem mesh generally quite well offstage. It is a bit of a mini melting pot, and sort of like a bizarro family reunion (culture-wise anyways) both on the bus and beyond.

The live performances are the centerpiece in Dellal's doc, and that's where all of the culture and history really come together. It would be hard to find a more varied set of bands on one stage, though knowing how they're all tied by the same ethnic fibers deep down makes this all connect. It's hard to not get great joy from the charismatic vocals of Esma Redzepova or to sit still while the wild violin-driven rhythms of Taraf de Haidouks unfold like some kind of mad party music, to say nothing of the more formal flamenco and Indian flavors on display.

The backstories flesh out the personalities of the performers, as cameras travel to their small hometowns, and we're given the opportunity to see what makes them what they are. The reveals are simple but telling, and while each carry some measure of regional musical notoriety (some more than others), they all seem driven by the same unnameable spirit of creating music as part of their own heritage. That's a neat cohesive thread, one that's much more powerful than just writing a song for the hell of it, and the international flavor of the Romanis all kind of echo with a similar sense of forlorn history.

In one of those occasional weird parallels that happen every once in awhile, I just happen to be in the middle of an escapist action/conspiracy novel by James Rollins that contains a bit of accidental relevance. One of the subplots relies heavy on the intricacies of Romani history, in great detail tracing it back to India. That fact was a new lesson to me, and when I shifted to Dellal's Gypsy Caravan I found the heritage trail on display to sync up with what I just learned in Rollins' story. One doesn't have to listen all that hard to heart the root similarities of these diverse-on-the-surface performers, led by the music of India's Maharaja as it resonates outward.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The windowboxed nonanamorphic transfer carries a moderately bright color palette throughout, but the image quality waffles a bit, ranging from moderately well-detailed to significantly softer at times. Some of the live performances also suffer from murkier black levels, which tends to minimize the punch of the colorful costumes worn onstage.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 stereo mix is more than serviceable for the dialogue portions, though understandably the live performances lack that larger multi-channel texture. Given the nine languages spoken, it's a toss-up to accurately assign just one to this title, though all of the conversations (and most of the songs) feature fixed subtitles.

Audio Transfer Grade: B- 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Bob Dylan: Dont Look Back, Air Guitar Nation, A Crude Awakening, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill
18 Featurette(s)
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: A decent block of supplements, though most are short, with none running longer than eleven minutes. Under the Off Stage Performances heading there's a collection of twelve assorted segments, and there's a deleted scenes feel to these pieces, with the average length just a couple of minutes. The Complete Performances section carries four uninterrupted live tunes, one each by Taraf de Haidouks, Esma Redzepova, Antonio El Pipa and Maharaja. Flamenco Church (03m:54s) is a subtitle-free piece with Juana El Pipa rocking awfully hard in the House of the Lord.

An extended Johnny Depp Interview (10m:48s) is provided, and this is the longform version of the abbreviated scene that appears in the doc, with the actor recalling his experiences working with the sprawling Taraf de Haidouks ensemble during The Man Who Cried.

Also included is a bio of director Dellal, a photo gallery and a few trailers (including one for the feature). The disc is cut into 12 chapters.

Extras Grade: B-

Final Comments

This is much more than a simple concert tour film, as an amalgam of Romani bands from around the globe gather to bring the diversity and similarities of their music and heritage to a new audience, as well as each other. The audio and video transfers are nothing to get excited about, but the performances still shine through.


Rich Rosell 2008-09-12