Children of the Stork

(Je suis né d’une cigone aka Born of a Stork, Tony Gatlif, France, 1999)


This shortish feature (seventy-five minutes) is the odd-one-out in Tony Gatlif’s filmography.

It is a zany comedy (politicised, bien sur) styled as a latter-day homage to the Nouvelle Vague – complete with whimsical voice-over narration with lines like "nothing’s happening, I’m nodding off" (spoken by critic Noël Simsolo), many jump cuts, asides and poses played to camera, Tashlinesque games with the frame lines and narrative short cuts ("The car? I stole it during the ellipse") and references to Godard, Straub, Garrel, and Serge Daney ("Is he a filmmaker?").

There is a droll cameo from an overworked movie critic who reduces his reviews to rubber-stamps – Absolute Masterpiece, Lacks Balls – and a central character temporarily wiped out of the movie for daring to diss the patriarchy of Ford and Cassavetes.

Although this is recognisably set in the real world – Gatlif this time taking as his pretext the plight of the unemployed, glimpsed early on at a hearty street manif, and of immigrant families – as well as in the director’s usual world (the auteur’s alter ego Romain Duris, and Rona Hartner – who has the look of many feisty, lusty Gatlif heroines – are both back after Gadjo Dilo [1997]), it is also, unmistakeably, a Nouvelle Vague world: forbidding old people and landlords, stuffy bourgeois dinners (contrasted to homely Arab meals), trains and rooftops, newspaper sellers (the inevitable "Herald-Tribune!" gag) and cafés, the spectre/metaphor of prostitution and incarceration in a grey, oppressive, industrialised, consumer society (the glum Arab teen companion of the duo reads Society of the Spectacle and concludes: "Debord was right" – and later says the same for Marx and Che) …

The romantic opposition to all that: a wild-child couple in flight ("Smash it all, he says," they paint with their graffiti spray cans – and they even stage a Badlands-style break-in at a mansion). But they fire guns in a non-violent way, and they back-up, fired by ecological conscience, to retrieve the trash thrown idly out their car door. They also fetch a stork in trouble – signalling a new narrative plateau as the trio get beyond the city to the snowy fields of Amiens – a stork who can speak eloquently (Hawks and Sparrows-style) of his plight as an Algerian in need of a smuggling-across-German-border operation. (The stork is balanced by a racist parrot squawking in favour of Le Pen – and that bird does indeed get the bullet.)

What returning customers have come to expect from Gatlif and love in his work – the folk music and dancing – is in short supply here, as is the sensual eroticism (a final chaste tryst in a nest, in extreme long-shot, must suffice). In what is possibly a self-parodic note, the auto that the trio steal turns out to be a "gypsy car", providing a blast of an appropriate music cassette. But where the familiar Gatlif insists is in the sound collages of musique concrète in glorious Dolby: not only a warring animal duet (stork versus pig) but, even lovelier, a mix of revolutionary old vinyl records and "talking books"– shades of Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 (1966)!

MORE Gatlif: Exiles, Vengo, Swing, Latcho Drom

© Adrian Martin January 2005

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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