Directed by Tony Gatlif. USA. 2003.

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"... to dance you need rhythm, to sing you need swing. That’s the only way you can feel what can’t be put into words, to enjoy the pleasure that makes you sing, sing, yeah .... For love you need rhythm, for the heart you need swing..." - a Manouche song

Characterized by both gentle and frenetic rhythms, the vibrant music of the Manouche resounds throughout Swing the latest film by director Tony Gatlif. The Manouche are Gypsies living in the Alsace area of France whose music combines the rhythm, melody, and emotion of their own culture with the jazz, swing, and blues of American. Gatlif, of Algerian and Gypsy ancestry, has made numerous films dealing with Gypsy cultures around the world such as the acclaimed 1993 documentary Latcho Drom. This film not only provides a unique insight into Gypsy life but is also a charming coming-of-age story about two unlikely friends.

Max (Oscar Copp) is a blond-haired, blue-eyed French ten-year old who is on vacation at his grandmother's house. He is drawn to Swing (Lou Rech), a boyish-looking girl of his age and is captivated by the music that is an integral part of her life. Fascinated by the guitar music of the Django Reinhardt School played by Miraldo (Tchavolo Schmidt), he buys an old guitar and asks Miraldo to give him lessons in exchange for help in writing letters to the Welfare Department. Max and Swing explore the natural beauty of the countryside together, wandering along the lost roads and hidden rivers of the French countryside. When she invites him to musical evenings at her home, he learns the history and songs of the Manouche and their tribulations during the holocaust.

The story is slight and not fully realized but it doesn't matter. The film is not about the story but about the people, their music, and their way of life. Gypsies have been one of the most persecuted ethnic minorities throughout history. Like the Jews, their numbers were decimated during the Holocaust and their heritage and traditions are in jeopardy. Gatlif says, "I'm simply trying to transmit something that is disappearing… I am trying to be a witness". Swing transmits that "something" with meaning and joy.

Howard Schumann
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