Writer-director, Tony Gatlif (born in Algeria with a gypsy background and settled in France) has developed a cinema career of making arresting films with gypsy stories, themes of wandering peoples, and a focus on their music, Latcho Drom, Gadjo Dilo, Exils, Princes... Korkoro is his latest, but it is different from his other films insofar as it takes us back into World War II history.
In Vichy France there was legislation against the gypsies and their way of life, especially preventing them from moving around the countryside. As one of the bigoted and fascist characters says of them in the film, they are considered as vermin. With their poor reputation for being wandering thieves and scoundrels, they did not elicit a great deal of sympathy from the French countrysiders. Gatlif ensures that they do receive some sympathy from his audience.
Korkoro means ’freedom’ and is the name the gypsies give to a little boy, P’tit Claude, an orphan, who follows them and wants to join them. He has been in an orphanage and fostered but has suffered and is hungry. The gypsies are wary but let him tag along. When the gypsies arrive at a fruit-picking destination, they are under scrutiny from the French authorities as well as the German officials in the town.
The film shows the harshness of the treatment of gypsies, something they don’t understand, especially as they say the war is not their war. The authorities check their documents and use them against them. They are rounded up and interned. The main gypsy character audiences can identify with is the mentally-limited Taloche, a genial clown character - played with some miming allusions by James Thieree to his grandfather (he is the son of Victoria Chaplin).
A sympathetic vet, who is the mayor of the town, befriends them and also takes Claude into his house and cares for him. The other sympathetic character is Miss Lundi who works in the town hall office, working with documents, but who also teaches in the local school. She makes an appeal to the gypsies to better their situation by learning to read and write. She gets mixed results. However, she is also part of the resistance and both she and the mayor are arrested and tortured.
The mayor sells an ancestral property for a peppercorn price and it is made available to the gypsies, according to the law, and they could stay for the duration of the war, something they find too difficult. Claude always helps them. Then, as the situation deteriorates, he pleads to go with them. The concentration camps become a deathly prospect.
Throughout the film, Gatlif is able to introduce sequences of song and dance and the exhilaration of gypsy music.
2010 saw a number of films which took audiences back to the 1940s and occupied France and Vichy France, Gainsbourg, Sarah’s Key along with Korkoro and the 2009 L’Armee du Crime. An opportunity to remember some hidden aspects of the war experience and to learn more about prejudice and persecution.
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