France. 2006. 103mins. Director, screenplay Tony Gatlif

In Transylvania cult diva Asia Argentotakes to the agitated universe of Romany film-maker Tony Gatliflike a duck to water.

The latestof French-based Gatlif's ventures into the world ofGypsy and Eastern European culture, Transylvania is at once romance,road movie, ethnological celebration, and vehicle for the unshackled ball ofemotive frenzy that is Argento at full tilt.Narrative patchiness and a sense that we've been here before with Gatlif - the film is very nearly a female remake of his1998 Gadjo Dilo- might limit the film's sales, but Argento's hipprofile, together with uniformly dazzling visuals, should give the film aboost, especially in France.

Despite thetitle, the film has nothing whatsoever to do with vampires - even though Gatlif plays a sly nod to horror conventions at the verystart, as three women arrive in a mysteriously deserted, eerily shotTransylvanian village.

Beforelong, however, the place proves to be teeming with life, and then some.

Argentoplays Zingarina, a young woman who has arrived from France, accompanied by her friend Marie (Casar) and local guide Luminitsa(Beaujard), in search of her lover Milan (Castoldi),who has suddenly vanished, leaving her pregnant.

When Milan, a Byronicallyswaggering musician, turns up, he promptly rejects Zingarina,sending her into a spectacular emotional meltdown - which involves much drunkenplate-breaking to musical accompaniment at a local bar, plus plenty of theuninhibited screaming and grimacing that are Argento'strademarks.

AlthoughMarie tries to hustle her back to France, Zingarinaprefers to go on her own voyage of discovery, first with a little Gypsy girl,then in tandem Tchangalo (wolfishly charismaticTurkish actor Ünel, from Head-On), anadventurer who's trying to get a package of silver and gold to Germany.

Like many Gatlif films, this is a drama about a non-Romany undergoinga sort of Gypsification of the soul - learning totravel without passport, borders or fixed identity. Zingarina,who before long adopts traditional Gypsy garb, learns to love the life of theroad - and not a linear road, either.

One of thefilm's appeals is that conventional notions of space and time are wilfullythrown aside, as is any sense of straightforward narrative: the characters,like the film itself, travel for the sheer hell of it.

This is notspecifically a film about Gypsies but about a certain hybrid quality of EasternEuropean identity: a celebration of Transylvania as a mixture of Romanian, Gypsy andHungarian cultures.

The filmitself is equally hybrid in terms of language, with Argentoalone slipping jarringly between French, Italian and English, while the severalother languages of the region provide a backdrop.

This is notalways to the film's advantage, however, especially in the stilted multilingualdialogues between Argento and Ünel,and the whole unruly confection at times suggests the ultimate chaoticEuro-pudding.

Argento'sand Ünel's performances set a frenzied tone that onlyoccasionally lets up - Transylvania is filled with riotous music,plentiful boozing and repeated cathartic explosions of the soul.

There arenot many key narrative moments that stand out - the most memorable withoutdoubt being the sex scene that's inopportunely interrupted by a bear.

But Gatlif directs with the conviction of a man who's utterlysteeped in the moods and cultures of his chosen setting, and there's a certainheady pleasure to be had from a film that seemingly heads out without a roadmap and simply follows its nose.

One greatasset is Celine Bozon'svivid Scope photography, especially in the latter snowbound scenes, while adecided flaw is the way that Amira Casar drops out of the action so quickly, after providing acooler, more thoughtful counterpoint to Argento atthe star.







Christian Paumier

Doru Mitran


Celine Bozon


Monique Dartonne


Brigitte Brassart


Tony Gatlif

Delphine Mantoulet

Main cast

Asia Argento, Amira Casar, BirolÜnel, Alexandra Beaujard,Marco Castoldi