8 June 2002 | jandesimpson
France as we never see it
When I came to look up "Les Princes" on this database it was something of a surprise that there were no user comments or external reviews of a film I would regard as particularly worthy of attention. By comparison two of Tony Gatlif's other gypsy films, "Lacho Drom" and "Gadjo Dilo", worthy but lesser works in my opinion, would appear to have been "discovered". The earlier "Les Princes" is a savage and angry work about a proud people trying to survive in a world that regards them as human scum, fit only to exist in squalid council apartment blocks - and there only under the continual threat of eviction - after which there is only the open road or a space set aside by the municipal rubbish tip. Nara, the central character, is hardly a sympathetic type. He has a harsh temperament that is often given to violence. Yet, for all the scrapes he gets into and a failed family life - a little girl whom he adores by a trollop he detests and an elderly mother with whom he is always bickering - he carries his head high - a match for all those he comes up against, particularly a patronising woman journalist who seeks an interview with him. One of the most remarkable features of "Les Princes" is its use of carefully chosen locations to underline the squalid conditions these unaccepted people have to exist in. It was shot in and around the town of Guise in the north-east, a part of France that tourists possible never visit apart from passing through. The first half of the film is played out in urban landscapes, the housing apartments where even the window frames are good for flogging, a seedy bar ironically named "Bar des Princes" and a derelict factory. It is a crazy and cluttered world mirrored in a slightly confused narrative. It is only when the family is evicted and take to the open road, with Nara's mother - a marvellous study of female stubbornness and resilience - determined to find a lawyer that will put things right, that the film achieves a clear narrative flow that at times touches on greatness. It becomes the mother's film at this point, her odyssey leading the others onward through a landscape buffeted by rain. The happenings of the last half-hour are truly remarkable.