(Tony Gatlif, France, 2014) 107 minutes


Director: Tony Gatlif
Producer: Tony Gatlif
Screenplay: Tony Gatlif
Cinematography: Patrick Ghiringhelli
Editor: Monique Dartonne
Music: Delphine Mantoulet, Valentin Dahmani
Céline Sallette (Geronimo)
Rachid Yous (Fazil)
David Murgia (Lucky)
Nailia Harzoune (Nil)
Vincent Heneine (Antonieto)
Adrien Ruiz (El Piripi)

Reviews and notes

2014 Cannes, Festival du Film Français (Japan), Locarno, Busan, Haifa, Warsaw

Gatlif is back on familiar territory with his explosive use of gitanes dance and music coupled here with hip-hop and some opera thrown in for good measure. It’s an engaging mix even if there is scant story line for the focus of all this energy. The film is best seen as a sequence of stunning set pieces woven together by Gatlif with skill and passion. Straddling Geronimo is Patrick Ghiringhelli’s striking cinematography which gives several scenes, especially Nil running through a field of pampas grass, a dreamlike, abstract quality. Sallette is excellent as the dedicated Geronimo who is determined to fight to the bitter end to try and improve the outlook for the town’s deprived youngsters. She already proved her worth in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette alongside Kirsten Dunst and in Bertrand Bonello’s House of Tolerance and Jaques Audiard’s Rust and Bone. And here her measured performance is the perfect counterpoint to Gatlif’s chaos and frenzy. Geronimo has failings as far as a credible narrative is concerned and the film suffers from the use of non-professional actors in many of the lead roles. But who can fault Gatlif’s intentions and skill?
- Judith Prescott, French Cinema Review, 28 November 2014.

A fearful bride runs madly from right to left; a breathless young man runs madly from left to right. They converge, entwined with desire, and ride off on a motorbike accompanied by blaring rock music. Whew — at least nobody expects demure from Tony Gatlif, whose latest feature, Geronimo, is a West Side Story update about a social educator trying to prevent all-out war between the families of an illicit couple. Driven as always by spirited music, the helmer remains unsurprisingly true to himself, meaning French play could be strong...

Gatlif claims he’s never felt freer than during the making of this film, largely shot outdoors or in a vast abandoned factory that allowed him to think about the action in full 360-degree terms. Not that there’s much circling of the camera (thankfully), though there is a vigorous sense of space. Nil Terzi (Nailia Harzoune) is the bride, 16, just forcibly married off to older Tarik (Tim Seyfi). Her lover is Lucky Molina (David Murgia), and once they run away together, Nil’s family is out for blood, literally — no one more so than her brother Fazil (Rachid Yous), a striking young man who smolders and seethes and smolders again.

The two families, one of Turkish origin and the other Spanish, live in the south of France — not the posh part, of course. Geronimo (Celine Sallette, Rust and Bone) is the community “social educator,” a sort of social worker-cum-life coach dedicated to keeping local youth out of too much trouble. A reform school graduate herself, Geronimo doles out tough love and expects the 'hood to show her the same respect she shows them. Yet staving off bloodshed will be a problem, since Fazil and Co. are convinced the only way to save face is by killing his sister.

Gatlif certainly knows how to build tension, and the air practically quivers with imminent violence, though up until the finale, he substitutes music and dance numbers in lieu of actual gunplay. In one scene a flamenco dancer (Prado Jimenez) does a number on an overturned coffin; in another, rhythms are underscored by weapons like truncheons, knives and chains, used to pound the beat. It’s all very Jets vs. Sharks, minus Jerome Robbins, but the music is still captivating and the sequences pulse with energy. Less successful are overbaked, plot-driven sections pitched at a level of near-hysteria.

The Shakespeare parallels are understandably omnipresent, and not just to Romeo & Juliet; There’s also a classic fool-clairvoyant, Alex (Arthur Vandepoel), predicting disaster. Geronimo herself is an updated version of the archetypal go-between, trying hard to whisk the lovers away from harm while appealing for calm. She’s a strong character, largely thanks to Sallette’s modulated intensity; others in the cast don’t have her thesping chops, and Gatlif seems to encourage a tendency toward glowering in scenes that keep threatening to boil over. Despite the hothouse nature of their story, at least Harzoune and Murgia manage to feel theatrically real in their youthful passion.

Lensing by Patrick Ghiringhelli has a sense of urgency, relatively loose-limbed and unafraid to stick close to the characters except during dance numbers, when auds can appreciate the full performances. Gatlif’s fruitful 10-year collaboration with composers Delphine Mantoulet and Valentin Dahmani continues to attest to their mutual sympathies, and the enjoyable blend of Turkish and Spanish rhythms tied to a contempo beat are the strongest elements of the film.
- Jay Weissberg, Variety, 19 May 2014.

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