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Diasporas, Cultures of Mobilities, ‘Race’ 1

Judith Misrahi-Barak
Claudine Raynaud

Diasporic Discontinuities

The Vulnerable Participant Observer and Native Informant: Gadjo Dilo and the Representation of Roma-French cultures

Mireille Rosello


Tony Gatlif’s 1998 Gadjo Dilo narrativizes the encounter between Stéphane (a young Frenchman) and a small Roma community settled outside of Bucharest. I propose to focus on this work of fiction as a way of thinking through recent political events. France’s systematic deportation of Roma has led to severe critiques: arguing that the targeting of one ethnic community is a clear example of discrimination, Europe threatened legal action. The debate focuses on the notion of ’community’ and ’belonging’ as well as on the issue of who has a right (or a duty) to move and stay in one European state. But what is the precise status of ’Roma’ in this case? Do they disappear when references to their community are removed from official texts to avoid Europe’s disapproval? Is the specificity of certain diasporic groups not erased by an appeal to a classic ’community based’ discourse of European solidarity? Gadjo Dilo constantly explores (rather than assumes) the unstable and contested link between one individual and any predictable collective culture or identity. Just as the main character, because he is so obsessed by his search for one specific representative Gypsy singer, fails to recognize that he is constantly surrounded by real Gypsy music, the film as a whole explores apparently contradictory spaces of struggle. I argue that the film helps us think about the role of diasporas in Europe, because Gatlif focuses on what it means for subjects to be both in and out, to be integrated yet relegated and to be able learn a language and a culture while functioning more or less adequately in that language and culture.

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1Gadjo Dilo is a film made by Tony Gatlif, a director of Roma origin. Released in 1997, Gadjo Dilo is the story of a young Frenchman (played by Romain Duris) who travels to Romania and meets an old Roma man who welcomes him to his village. The film problematizes the principle of one individual’s emblematic quest for something that may appear, at first, to fall under the category of ’Roma culture’ in general and Roma music in particular. What might at first seem to be the most emblematic characteristic of the Roma’s diasporic culture is redefined as an elusive and highly controversial object of study. The questioning of such cultural categories and of the very definition of a diasporic culture is not a revolutionary proposal at the end of the twentieth century but the film does not only highlight the frame that it places around its own object of representation: Gadjo Dilo is also a modest aesthetic experiment that viewers can easily transpose when they are involved in academic, cultural and political work. The film seems, at first, to be about a diasporic community and the interaction between the Roma and a Westerner. But it does not foreground, let alone represent cultural differences or cultures in general. Instead, it focuses on the theoretical inability to put a border around any given culture. It also shows the consequences of the fact that most attempts at representing cultures do so.

  • 1 In case this passive voice is a little too impersonal let me state that this essay is my own attemp (...)

2The story of this encounter between a Frenchman and a Roma community have recently become particularly relevant and the film has helped me reflect on the events that occurred in France during the summer of 2010, even though Gadjo Dilo was directed more than ten years earlier. In 2010, the measures adopted by the French government against the Roma community were abundantly commented upon, and often criticized.1

3The first episode of a summer-long series of deportations had very little to do with diasporic European migrants. After a confrontation between a local youth from a small commune and police forces led to the former’s death, this tragic but isolated event triggered a national and international debate about the status of Roma in Europe. The fact that the victim was of Roma origin led to volatile political reactions and to discussions that made it clear that ignorance and lack of distinctions between different groups and individuals were going to be the norm rather than the exception.

4Luigi Duquenet, the young man whose death was followed by riots around the gendarmerie of Loir et Cher quickly moved out of the frame of reference but the few nights of violence triggered a vastly larger movement. The French government started dismantling hundreds of temporary camps occupied by ’gens du voyage’ (Travelers) and launched a series of systematic deportations that affected thousands of people, which did not pass unnoticed on the international scene. The state was accused of mobilizing against one ethnic community, the Roma.

5From a cultural analysis point of view, a number of crucial issues were raised during that period and they had already been addressed in this 1997 film that represents a community of Roma in Romania. In other words, Gadjo Dilo held out an interesting theoretical mirror to the public debate that accompanied the French government’s actions. One of the obvious problems was that the definition of ’Roma’ is ambiguous. The events that took place in the summer of 2010 underscored the highly problematic status of words that are used, often indiscriminately, to refer to minorities such as ’les gens du voyage’, gypsies or Roma. A whole list of other words regularly appear and disappear from our cultural landscape: manouche, romanichels, sinti, or even Boumian in Provence, but my goal here is not to ascertain which one is preferable or preferred when and by whom.

6In a context where sudden visibility does not signify more power or better citizenship status but is both the consequence and the cause of discrimination and persecution, identity questions cannot be dismissed as theoretically untenable essentialist quests. At the same time, the pitfalls of essentialism and identity politics do not disappear.

  • 2 When the President of the Republic, after violence erupted in Duquenet’s town, called a meeting to (...)
  • 3 European Commissioner for Justice Viviane Reding threatened France with legal action and made a not (...)

7In this context, the debate about definitions and identifications is part and parcel of what is political about the Romas’ situation. One of the crucial (and desirable) cultural and social consequences of what happened in 2010 is that the members of the public who had access to the national and international media in France and abroad found themselves in the position of scholars or students asked to do research on one particular community. Like the main protagonist of Gadjo Dilo we became, to one extent or another, the protagonists in an unwritten and unperformed anthropological script where individuals were the equivalents of key figures in the discipline of anthropology or ethnography: some of us became native informants (as ’French’ or ’Roma’ or both), others experts or observer participants whose role involved more or less vulnerability and/or (desire for) objectivity (Behar 1996). A zooming-in and zooming-out process brought specific communities in and out of focus, changed the ratio between total invisibility and sudden magnification, and emphasized the often forgotten link between our search for knowledge and the reason why such knowledge is desired or suddenly required.2 The use of words such as Roma, travelers or Gypsies was linked to discussions of what it means to use them, i. e. of what constitutes a conflation, of who becomes a scapegoat, and who has the right to compare which historical events.3 What was under discussion was the political power of naming and defining the ethnic, national or cultural other.

8Tony Gatlif’s film provides us with a useful commentary on this debate by putting his hero in a difficult position vis-à-vis his own search for knowledge. The Gadjo Dilo (Crazy Stranger) travels to Romania because he wants to find a certain Nora Luca, whose name is scribbled on a tape that his father used to listen to before he died. He knows nothing about her except that she is of Roma origin. Stéphane wants to find her, record authentic Roma music and bring back his own tapes.

  • 4 The status of this new knowledge (music is collective property for example) is however just as prob (...)

9As critics have pointed out however, the more he learns about Roma culture and Roma music, the more he realizes that his quest for one individual song or one individual singer denaturalizes what he thinks he is looking for (Blum-Reid 2005, McGregor 2008, Orléan 1998). The songs, he will eventually conclude, are the collective property of a whole community, no individual singer by the name of Nora Luca will ever be found and even the distinction between lautari (musicians) and Roma in general cannot be clearly established.4

10The only scene during which Stéphane finally manages to locate a few singers and tries to record their song demonstrates his failure to appreciate the impossibility of separating music from other cultural practices: those musicians who play an instrument are inseparable from other artists who sing, clap or dance. Moreover, singing and dancing are professional activities (gypsies are invited to perform at weddings for example). They are also an expression of grief and part of precise mourning rituals as Stéphane discovers when they visit a well-known lautar who, as it turns out, has just passed away.

11In one of the most-commented upon scenes, when he sets up an improvised studio, his lover Sabina immediately starts dancing and clapping and he tries to silence her because he understands her performance (wrongly, the film suggests) as a form of parasitical noise that will adulterate his recording. Sean Homer suggests that Stéphane, in that scene, destroys what he wants to learn about. Once music is isolated as what must be recorded in order to be brought back to France (appropriated and stored), the object of knowledge is ’erased’ and ’killed’:

What Stéphane wishes to capture through these recordings is the authentic voice of Gypsy song, presumably before they disappear, but it is the very authenticity of the moment that is eclipsed through its transcription. When songs are sung throughout the film, some traditional and others composed and played by Gatlif himself, they are inevitably accompanied by the ’audience’ singing, dancing and clapping or smashing plates. There is no clear distinction between audience and performers; it is the very lifeblood of the songs that they are ’owned’ collectively and performed by everyone. It is this very vitality that Stéphane erases through the gesture of capturing the object. In short, he erases the very thing that he desires in the object in the first place-its vitality, its life, that which drew his father to it as well. By inscribing it in the symbolic, Stéphane kills the thing itself. (192)

12Stéphane, however, will never bring the tapes back to France. He does not become a musical ethnographer who insists that he has gained authentic knowledge about the Roma. After tragedy strikes, with the murder of his host’s son and the destruction of the village by its Romanian neighbors, Stéphane destroys the recordings that he has patiently accumulated during his stay with the community. And once he has destroyed all the cassette tapes, he buries them according to the same mourning ritual that he has seen Isidor, his surrogate father, perform on the grave of the lautar whom they had come to visit. He knows, by now, that for a Rom, music, death, singing and mourning go together. He has learned how to bury ritually, using music and dance. He may have risked killing what he was trying to learn by trying to store it, as Homer suggests, but at the end of the film, he no longer confuses the tapes with what he was looking for. The film juxtaposes his attempt to record what he believed to be Roma music and the moment when he gives up. He buries both the tapes and the illusion that what he had discovered was authentic music.

13Gadjo Dilo, then, could be interpreted as the radical critique of the original impulse to learn about the Roma and could be read as a statement about the impossibility for the Gadjo to have access to the object of his desire. It would, if that were the only possible reading, provide us with a limited and pessimistic conclusion: is it, after all, even desirable to try and learn more about the Roma?

14But from a political point of view, would it help those who fought against the deportation of Roma to argue that their community cannot be known except as unknowable? When Homer writes that Gadjo Dilo ’has, at the very least, raised important questions regarding the representation of cultural “others” in films, and challenged the perceived cultural integrity of trans-national “ethnographic” filmmaking’, he does not seem to have found answers to the ’important questions’. A few sentences earlier, he even criticized the director and accused him of hypocrisy, while suggesting that the scene during which Stéphane buries the tape may invalidate not only the character’s quest but the film as a whole. Gatlif’s film is the equivalent of Stéphane’s tapes and the director was not as wise as his main protagonist or perhaps a lot more cynical. Andrew McGregor therefore wonders about the status of the work of art as a whole: ’... the question could well be asked as to whether he should have destroyed his own recording (the film) instead of exploiting it around the Western world as a vehicle for cultural “titillation” and commercial gain’ (82). And when he answers ’Of course not’ (82), I find myself unconvinced that this is not the conclusion which, as spectators, we are expected to reach.

15The uncomfortable swinging between ’of course’ and ’of course not’ invites us to ask again the question of how to know the other and to reformulate slightly the original hypothesis. At the beginning, I suggested that in the summer of 2010, we became like scholars or students of anthropology asked to do research on one particular community. I now would like to add that we were students or scholars without any kind of background and without any kind of disciplinary expertise. The Roma are not completely unknown and they have been the objects of numerous studies. But as members of the ’general public’, we were not only students (which I continue to find desirable) but most of us, at least, were absolute beginners who were precisely not aware what academic research could have taught us about Roma. We were rudimentary students suddenly confronted with lectures by rushed and perhaps not so effective teachers: on the one hand, rushed journalists who had to react to current affairs and, on the other hand extremely knowledgeable experts who had to adjust to an unfamiliar terrain of presentation. Like Stéphane, we turned into rather ignorant ethnographers who did not even know how to do ethnography. And perhaps, paradoxically, this is an area where the film can also help us by providing a curious and perhaps over-optimistic version of what kind of knowledge emerges in the presence of bad teachers, bad students, unreliable experts who usurp the role of the native informant and help us cope with the double constraint: we want to know, we need to know, we can’t know and what we know is, often, simply, not even incomplete, but wrong.

16One of the limits of the scenes that focus exclusively on how Stéphane deals with the tapes is that it forces us to focus, at least primarily, on the way in which Romani culture can or cannot be adequately learned and represented by the Westerner. It ends on a salutary cautionary note that we may have heard before: there is no such thing as ’the Roma’ and their ’cultures’ are multiple and internally divided. Yet, the film still exists as evidence that at least one director found it undesirable to give up all together on the concept of a ’Roma culture’ if it meant discovering ways in which we may productively interact with people who continue to be discriminated against on account of their ethnicity and origin.

17If we move from the issue of storing knowledge and capturing what is possibly exotic and idealizable about the Roma (here their music), to the question of how relationships and interactions between France and the Roma are more or less predetermined by what we know or don’t know about Westerners, the Roma, the Westernized Roma or Romanized Westerners, then new paradigms emerge. The film reflects on rudimentary encounters between neighbors who ignore each other’s presence. In Gadjo Dilo, there is no immediate crisis to solve on the international scene, but the fact that Stéphane arrives in a village as a stranger and has little time to learn everything he needs to know presents us with an interesting mirror. His story reflects on how to cope with mutual ignorance when it is coupled with a genuine and generous desire to learn.

18Two scenes are the opposite of the ’recording Romani music’ motif that the film dismisses as a misguided attempt. In those two passages, ’France’ (and not the Roma’s culture) is presented as the object of cultural appropriation by two different informants: first, Isidor (the old Gypsy who becomes Stéphane’s host and symbolic father) then Stéphane (who plays the role of the casual native informant). The two scenes follow each other in quick succession. Both are hopelessly incomplete accounts of French culture and relying on such pictures would only result in stereotypes. Yet, if we apprehend both scenes as a potentially self-contradictory image of how a given ’culture’ is always presented and represented, we end up redefining what it may mean to be a rudimentary participant-observer, native informant or expert (i. e. the roles that we were asked to play as teachers and students last summer).

19The two scenes have one topos in common, they represent a moment when one character is involved in explaining one’s own ’culture’ with a stranger. Although extremely different from each other, the two scenes are about ’teaching the other’. In the first scene, the film turns Isidor into a more or less successful manipulator of his guest’s native knowledge and in the second one, Stéphane adds yet another facet to the apparently unsolvable problem of the paradoxical link between representational politics and the definition of Roma culture.

20Isidor has taken Stéphane to a bar where Romanians are drinking and playing. That first scene takes place in Romanian, a language that is supposed not to be understood by the imagined audience (it is subtitled both for French- and English-speaking audiences). Like the spectator, the main character is excluded from the dialogue. Whatever Romani Stéphane has learned at this point is useless anyway since Isidor speaks Romanian, the national language, and not that of his own community. His bilingualism gives him a specific position: he is the only one who can speak both for himself and for the Frenchman.

21The content of Isidor’s tirade is both the most striking element and perhaps the least interesting aspect of this complex visual and multilingual scene because Gatlif’s irony is relatively obvious. Even if the spectator does not speak Romanian, the subtitles help us understand that Isidor presents us with a completely idealized picture of the situation of the Roma in France. Rendered particularly poignant by the events that took place in 2010, Isidor’s tirade would have us believe that Roma are perfectly well integrated in France, that they occupy respectable professions, and that they do not suffer from racism or discrimination. Carefully eliding the issue of citizenship he claims:

French people and gypsies live in perfect harmony. In France no one calls gypsies thieves. No one points the finger at them in France. They travel where they want in their houses on wheels. They repair everything on earth. They make saucepans wagons. Everyone loves them because on this earth, no one works as well as they do.

22The ’teacher’ is Isidor who, as far as we know from previous elements of the plot, has never been to France. And yet, he deliberately and forcefully adopts the position of the near native informant who knows all about gypsies in France. Isidor ostensibly ’teaches’ Romanians about Gypsies in France. From a rhetorical point of view, the system of address is more important than the content of his speech because it ensures that no one is in a position to contradict him. Stéphane is left out of the dialogue and the Romanians are (treated as) radically ignorant students.

  • 5 Regular allusions suggest that police forces are brutal and discriminatory, that the Roma do not fe (...)

23Isidor’s audience is the majority group in his own country. Romanians, the film suggests, enjoy a sense of cultural legitimacy and treat the Roma as the marginal and mistrusted minority against which they can, at any point, exert violence.5 Their dominant position, perhaps paradoxically, is reflected in their non-desire to learn about the other (including this familiar other who stands among them). They are not diasporic and they will never be. Their absence of curiosity is a form of stability rather than a potentially dangerous form of ignorance. They do not need to cross any border, they do not even need to be aware of their ignorance, and what they don’t know remains invisible. Isidor speaks their language but they don’t speak his. In this scene, they have nothing to say even though it is clear that they don’t respect what Isidor says or stands for. They laugh at him, and eventually, one of them asks why he does not move to France with all his family. The trick is cruel because it allows the man to express racism without being accused of it. To the extent that Isidor invents a France that is the opposite of Romania, the other character is free to let him fall into his own rhetorical trap. Clearly, it does not matter what Isidor says about France. It is irrelevant knowledge: it is used by the Romanian to continue to reject the Gypsies, which is the reason why Isidor needs the fantasy to begin with. In other words, this fake new knowledge about the other’s culture functions within a logic of reproduction of power relationships even if Isidor’s blatant lie is exposed by the subtitles and possibly by his audience’s amusement.

24The Romanians’ curiosity about their diasporic other is only triggered, anyway, by a triangular situation created by the presence a foreign other/same (another ’Westerner’ who is, presumably, like them rather than like Isidor). Only when Isidor brings Stéphane (the national, ethnic and linguistic stranger) into the bar can they adopt the position of ignorant but interested students who would like to know something about France. France is one type of exotic elsewhere that does not threaten their own sense of belonging. France has, apparently, nothing to do with them: learning about France does not imply the breaking down of an internal border. Although the film exposes that belief as deceptive, it represents the possibility of nurturing that illusion. Any knowledge of the other reconfigures one’s relationship to one’s culture and one’s definition of who is in and who is out.

25The first part of the scene establishes Isidor’s authority as an expert on France through his relationship with Stéphane. Just as Stéphane makes the mistake of over-identifying with Nora Luca and Gypsy culture in general, Isidor treats Stéphane as a quintessential example of ’France’. And just as music is isolated as the archetypal and separable ingredient of Romani culture, Stéphane’s body is here flaunted as the thing which guarantees his authenticity as a Frenchman from Paris. Excluded from the dialogue, he is an object of representation or presentation who literally stands for what is desirable about the other place. Isidor treats Stéphane in a way that does not have clear equivalents in terms of Western or at least French middle class etiquette. He takes control over whatever could allow Stéphane to communicate, his voice and his body.

26After Isidor explains that Stéphane is from Paris, one Romanian drinker asks him directly, in Romanian ’Is Paris Beautiful?’ Judging from Isidor’d body language, the question upsets him. At least this is what a middle class European spectator will assume and perhaps starts doubting at the same time. Loudly, Isidor exclaims that Stéphane does speak Romanian, that he came to learn Romani, that he only has Gypsy friends in Paris. The spectator knows that Stéphane does not speak Romanian but the other statements are at best inaccurate. It is not true that Stéphane came to Romania to study Romani, although he is doing his best to do so. We also have no idea how many Gypsy friends Stéphane had in France (quite possibly none) but what allows Isidor to assert such blatantly false statements without being contradicted is that Stéphane’s rudimentariness makes him a useless interlocutor who cannot disagree.

27Isidor’s next move puts us, too, in the position of the ignorant learner who is given few hints about how to interpret Isidor’s behavior around Stéphane: for a few seconds, he seems to be flaunting Stéphane’s body: ’Look how handsome he is, his back is straight, he is all pink’. Stéphane and Isidor are standing at the bar and Isidor’s performance is addressed to the whole room. Everyone watches as Isidor kisses and hugs Stéphane, touches his chest, turns him around, touches his back, then his cheeks. Such intimate gestures suggest either close friendship or someone’s power over the body of man who will not or cannot defend himself against unwelcome touching but the meaningfulness of Isidor’s actions are never explained. Stéphane does not say anything, does not protest, simply smiles. What the spectator sees is that one character does not understand while the other one compliments him and we cannot be sure why or how. Is the fact that his back is straight a sign of good health that would make him valuable to the community or is this simply an aesthetic preference that is idiosyncractic to Isidor? Is this touching and turning him around also a ’Gypsy’ thing or a familiar way of relating in Romania, or manly behavior or a unique event? It is impossible to know if we are in the presence of collective, cultural or individual behavior and the spectator is left with either doubt (we simply do not know) and personal projections from his or her own culture and history (a history of slavery or homosocial eroticism might come to mind). The appropriation of the body, the double-edged compliments are not explained, and therefore remain incomprehensible.

28At the same time, this body manipulated by a Rom who speaks about France functions as collateral guarantee. Simply because he is French, Stéphane’s presence is enough to ensure that what Isidor is about to say about France has a ring of truth. He first makes absolutely sure that Stéphane cannot talk and cannot be addressed. The native informer is legitimized as the link between the Gypsy community and France. He is the mute conduit of something that Isidor will be able to talk about with absolute authority: the situation of Gypsy communities in France. Whatever native knowledge Stéphane could provide on his own is unavailable to the Romanian audience. Yet, Stéphane is a native informer and his presence is supposed to validate the fiction that Isidor is ventriloquizing the truth.

29The native informant is both radically excluded and displayed as the proof that his knowledge and the authority that comes with it have been transferred over to Isidor. Stéphane’s embodied presence backs up a discourse that would otherwise have no power. Isidor is now the expert on France, on the status of gypsies in France, but he is also the only one who can mediate and translate for the Romanians. Stéphane is supposed to be a witness whose presence confirms or justifies what is said about him and what he represents. To the extent that he has no idea what is going on, he is, however, a fake witness who does not know or understand enough to testify. I am suggesting that the film proposes this apparently extreme case of powerless knowledge as one of the possible situations that we also occupy as native informants when confronted with the foreigner in our midst.

30Stéphane’s presence exacerbates the contradictions often exposed by postcolonial thinkers who worry that ’giving voice’ to the other often ends up with the usurping of their position. The ’ignorant’ anthropologist is in the role of the expert, yet, Isidor’s tirade can only exist because of or almost through Stéphane: his presence and his silence are the attributes that transform Isidor into an expert in French culture. The fact that Stéphane is positioned as a student of Romani is what makes the ignorant other an expert: Isidor’s position of power or mastery over his pupil automatically enables him to appropriate the status that Stéphane has when he is not his pupil.

31After the two men leave the pub, however, the situation is reversed and the scene changes radically. Now, the two men have left the bar and are on Isidor’s horse-drawn cart, going back to the village. The exchange between them takes the form of another language lesson but this time, Stéphane teaches Isidor. He is the one who knows and Isidor is the enthusiastic student who repeats everything that Stéphane tells him. This representation of language acquisition is most untraditional from an academic point of view: there is no classroom, this is a private lesson and a very idiosyncratic one. Stéphane produces a list of words and expressions which may seem random but will, as it turns out, constitute a meaningful set of terms that say something about French culture. The list of French words in this scene is an implicit response to the content of Isidor’s speech but he is unaware of the contradiction.

32Whenever Stéphane proposes a word, Isidor enthusiastically repeats it, sometimes more than once when his pronunciation is deemed unacceptable. The two men chant, one after the other:

Super mon cher!
Nique sa mère!
Ma mère est hôtesse de l’air! Le Pen!
Le Pen nique sa mère!

33The principle of repetition and the production of a list of words are not particularly progressive ways of learning a language especially given the improvised quality of Stéphane’s lesson. But far from being the equivalent of the famous Chinese encyclopedia entry that Michel Foucault cites at the beginning of The Order of Things, the seemingly incoherent list of words comments on Isidor’s idealized version of France. Stéphane did not understand that he was being used as the symbol or living proof that France is hospitable to the gypsies and did not have a chance to object to Isidor’s picture of harmony. Now, it is Isidor’s turn to perform, to ventriloquize something that he does not understand. He is forced to trust his teacher and what he repeats constitutes an incomplete but also a clear political and cultural statement. In Stéphane’s short lesson, France is (also) the country of football and of an extreme right-wing leader. And the same language serves to name Le Pen and to insult him. Just as Isidor had used Stéphane to legitimize and authorize his own vision of France, Stéphane makes Isidor speak and uses him as his mouthpiece. His native fluency smuggles in a political statement that his student is happy to repeat without knowing that he is a conduit whose words contradict what he has just said to the Romanians.

34Two apparently discrepant and self-contained pictures of ’France’ are provided here. The first one is a coherent utopia about the relationship between the French and the Gypsies, and the second one is a rather chaotic but not completely meaningless list of things French. Isidor, who invents the first France and participates, unwillingly, in the creation of the second, cannot link the two images. Neither can Stéphane perceive that the list that he has made up is a terribly ironic comment on what Isidor has just said. Both characters represent something that passes for a certain French culture. They undermine each other’s vision but are not aware of it. The spectator, on the other hand, cannot but connect both visions. From that perspective, it becomes possible to appreciate that France can function as the Roma’s dreamland and as the country that will deport them. Both images are simultaneously plausible because Isidor’s dream, whether or not actually validated as fact by Stéphane’s presence, serves a very specific function: it enables him to present his audience with a critique of the discrimination that his community suffers within his land of residence.

35What Stéphane’s list makes painfully clear is that Isidor’s dream is escapist. His paradise is also the land of ’Le Pen’ and of course, given what happened during the summer of 2010, Stéphane would not need, today, to invoke the National Front to make Isidor’s vision appear simplistic and idealized.

36But at the diegetic level, no bridge exists between Isidor’s speech about France and Stéphane’s list of words and both incompatible stories coexist. The two stories are ignorant of each other. They are trapped within two national languages, the language of two states that can continue to function as borders. Both the native informant and the amateur anthropologists are, to a large extent, unreliable. They do not provide the whole truth (which we could have expected) but they do not even articulate a truth or their truth about France. The film places the spectator in the position of the witness to this double unreliability. At the same time, however, the limitations of their representation do not invalidate the specific dynamics of the interaction between Isidor and Stéphane whose friendship is possible in spite of and also because of their lack of shared stories. What appears to be a form of miscommunication or lack of communication does not stop them from interaction but the film suggests that the discrepancy between those chaotic, incomplete accounts is precisely the shape that their bond takes.

37The two men thus mobilize concepts that the film has warned us to manipulate with as much caution as possible: the so-called Westerner can no more be trusted than the Rom to represent either their own culture or a culture that they identify as one to which they have access (a limited access) as witnesses, guests and observers. In both scenes, the assumed privilege of the knowledgeable native informant, or of the expert is alluded to and questioned by the context. The definition of the student (the observer, witness and guest-participant) is redefined as well. Both expose the possibilities and limits of being ’taught’ and ask what could be the enabling and limiting parameters set by any attempt to teach culture.


Works cited

Baar (van), Huub. ’Expulsion Fever in Europe. The Case of the Roma’. Nationalities Blog, blog of the Association for the Study of Nationalities (26 September 2010). Accessed February 2011.

Behar, Ruth. The Vulnerable Observer. Boston: Beacon Press, 1996.

Beissinger, Margaret. ’Occupation and Ethnicity: Constructing Identity among Professional Romani (Gypsy) Musicians in Romania Author (s)’, Slavic Review 60.1 (Spring 2001): 24-49. Accessed February 2011.

Blum-Reid, Sylvie. ’ The Elusive Search for Nora Luca: Tony Gatlif’s Adventures in Gypsy Land’, Portal, Journal of Multidisciplinary International Studies 2.2 (2005). Accessed January 2011.

Brand, Constant and Jim Brunsden. ’Reding slams France on Roma expulsions’, (14 September 2010). on-roma-expulsions/68855.aspx. Accessed February 2011.

Caro, Ilan. ’Gens du voyage: les amalgames du gouvernement’. Le Monde (21 July 2010). Accessed July 2011.

Homer, Sean. ’ “The Roma Do Not Exist”: The Roma as an Object of Cinematic Representation and the Question of Authenticity’, Gramma, Journal of Theory and Criticism 14 (2006): 183-198. Accessed July 2011.

Lipietz, Alain. ’La mémoire, la Shoah et les Roms’, Libération (9 October 2010) Accessed February 2011.

Macnab, Geoffrey. Review of Gadjo Dilo. Sight and Sound 10: 1 (January 2000): 65.

McGregor, Andrew. ’French cinema in Exile: Trans-national Cultural Representation in Tony Gatlif ’s Gadjo Dilo’. New Cinemas 6: 2 (2008): 75-83.

Orléan, Mathieu. ’Gadjo Dilo’. Cahiers du cinéma 523 (April 1998): 78.


1 In case this passive voice is a little too impersonal let me state that this essay is my own attempt at participating in this critique.

2 When the President of the Republic, after violence erupted in Duquenet’s town, called a meeting to discuss ’les problèmes que posent les comportements de certains parmi les “gens du voyage” et les Roms’ [the problems raised by the behavior of some of the Travelers and Roma], the media accused the government of systematic conflation (Caro 2010).

3 European Commissioner for Justice Viviane Reding threatened France with legal action and made a not-so-veiled comparison between France’s expulsion of Roma and what happened during the Second World War. For an account of the predictably heated controversy that such a comment triggered, see Brand and Brunsden 2010, Lipietz 2010 and van Baar 2010.

4 The status of this new knowledge (music is collective property for example) is however just as problematic. Stéphane’s process of unlearning and relearning is also staged. After all, this film does not pretend to constitute scientific ethnographic research. The fact that his findings are counter-intuitive does not guarantee that he has reached a truth or even a better version. For an analysis of the place of ’lautari’ that contradicts the image presented in Gadjo Dilo, see Beissinger 2001. She focuses on a community of lautari who identify with Romanians and wish to put distance between themselves and the Roma.

5 Regular allusions suggest that police forces are brutal and discriminatory, that the Roma do not feel welcome in hospitals, and at the end of the film Isidor’s drinking buddies will burn the village after his son starts a fight in the bar.

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