Prior to seeing this documentary, I had never heard of the band "Fanfare Ciocarlia" (Fanfare of the Larks), but once I got back home again and checked them out, I was surprised to see Amazon.com offering several of their CDs, so perhaps they're not so obscure. If one is already a fan of this band, or, alternatively, have some interest in gypsy music, or maybe are interested in having a little peek into life in a hidden Romanian village, this film might be worth seeing.
When I think of the kind of gypsy music that has an appeal to me, though, I think of the inclusion of some kind of violin in the sound, but Fanfare Ciocarlia is strictly "blown" instruments, mostly brass, but also with the inclusion of two woodwinds (a clarinet and a saxophone), along with drums, of course. It's hard to imagine that they can manage to get any kind of decent sound out of their instruments at all, instruments that are dented, bent, soldered-together, and seriously tarnished, but there is a man in town with a blowtorch sitting on what appears to be a brass instrument graveyard, who, apparently, can find enough spare parts to fix anything (even a horn that had been found lost and corroding in a lake by one of the village boys), and to me, this is a loud testament to the villager's strong and unstoppable desire to play music, which seems to rise up out of them as an organic aspect of their nature. And they never seem to STOP making music, either with their instruments or with just their mouths, making music is what they DO. And whether one likes their sound or not, their energy and enthusiasm is infectious.
The film itself is like a patchwork, much like the band's instruments, pieced together with whatever was on hand, intermixing color and black and white film stock, jumping back and forth in time, and inexplicably cutting around geographically, such as showing a concert in Tokyo inter-cut with one shown earlier in Berlin, and then back to Tokyo. Inbetween concert tours across Europe (in, apparently, the group's own bus, so they must be making some good money), they live their normal daily life in an entirely off-the-map village at the far eastern end of Europe, which seems to be a dead zone out of the global mainstream. Their main link to the world beyond seems to be a decrepit, slow-moving train that appears throughout the film like a shoelace tying the whole thing together. The train was somehow metaphorical, as a narrator continued to underscore that there was no official stop for this village, no station, no platform, and no announcement; you just had to know where the village was and the train would slow down a little and you would jump off. This "already having to know" is important, and I think this isolation means that the village was pretty much self-sufficient and left to its own devices, not assisted by any external forces. Even their church, a partially-built concrete-block affair with a crooked cross made of two pipes, described as the only gypsy church in Romania, was alone and had to wait for the band's financial success and the resulting donations in order to complete its construction.
Other than assistance to the little church, throughout all this there was no clear and obvious sign of the band members having moved forward from near-economic squalor. They had the same constantly muddy streets, the same battered Soviet car that continued to break down, the same horse-drawn carts; they definitely did not seem to be part of the modern era. Weddings were a big event. Therefore there was a sense of timelessness and nothing-ever-changes in all of this, which probably provides deep roots to their music, which rises up out of them like an instinct. From a Western, first world point of view, their life in the forgotten back end of Europe as a once Communist country and now, we're not quite so sure what it is, makes me wonder if after the fall of the Soviet Union, the second world merely collapsed into the third world. I suspect these people are no different than those living much further east in Siberia; the same isolation, the same lack of roads and modern conveniences, and the same situation of a train being the only link with an outer world. Apparently, whatever the economic system or government, it is all really irrelevant to the people. This seems to be, culturally, like a place where one would grow mushrooms...dark, damp, hidden, and yet fertile with a rich, organic life until expanding itself by sending spores out. For the people of this village, and perhaps for Romanian culture as a whole, these spores could be Fanfare Ciocarlia. Let what they have accomplished plant itself in you, and grow into an exotic nourishment. Life and culture survives and the human heart is gladdened by this.
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