By Merle Bertrand | November 20, 2001

It’s hard to believe that blood feuds are still socially acceptable to some cultures in some parts of the world. The ancient Roma culture, better known to westerners as “Gypsies,” is one such culture; the rural Andulasian region one such part of the world. We become more familiar with this deadliest of social mores in “Vengo,” director Tony Gatlif’s beautifully brooding tale of two high on life family clans; a sort of Romani version of the Hatfields versus the McCoys.
Caco (Antonio Canales) is the handsome and charismatic leaded of his clan. Trying desperately to dull the pain of his daughter’s death with wild parties and heavy drinking, Caco’s responsibilities are enormous. His brother Mario has been in hiding ever since he killed a member of the rival Caravacas clan, leaving it up to Caco to try to repair the rift as well as look after his nephew, Mario’s mentally challenged son Diego.
Yet, the Caravacas clan, a scurrilous looking bunch, is adamant. Somebody in Caco’s family must pay for the death of their kin…and unless Mario returns or Caco is able to negotiate some other sort of peace offering, that someone is likely to be Diego.
To say that “Vengo” isn’t exactly a plot driven film is a lot like saying the fight scenes in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” aren’t realistic. Instead of an intricately constructed narrative, Gatlif allows the people on camera to do what it is they do best. To that end, then, lengthy musical numbers from any one of the number of raucous parties Caco throws comprise the vast majority of “Vengo”; performances that feature a wide assortment of Romani musicians, singers and dancers.
This is actually just as well, because when the film does try to advance its narrative, it often comes across as way too melodramatic. Yet, for as artificial and forced as some of the dramatic scenes feel, the performance segments exude all the natural passion of the people themselves. Though this obviously makes “Vengo” a highly schizophrenic film, it also makes for a film that, at least most of the time, is a musical feast for eyes and ears alike.

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