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As I watched this movie, I became more and more curious, because of the director's obvious love for music. In fact, not only did he direct the movie, he also created much of the music that added up to a stunning soundtrack. But when I get back to my computer, I see that I have in fact already seen a movie by him - Swing - in which wee Max develops an understanding of gypsy culture and guitar playing. He is also famous in certain quarters for Latcho Drom, a movie I have never seen.
Exiles has, at its heart, a road movie. Zano is an Algerian in Paris, completely cut off from his roots - the film opens with him staring out of his flat window over the rooftops, no doubt imagining a different life, because he turns to his girlfriend, Naima, and says "lets go to Algeria". As you do. Naima is harder to work out - for the most part, she seems pretty banal, trivial even, interested solely in her own immediate pleasures. So, when she's in a bar one night, she thinks nothing of slinking off with another man just because he gives her the eye. But there might be reasons - they're not well explored, but it is suggested that she is even more rootless than Zano, with absolutely no expectations. Living for the immediate moment makes sense in that situation. I've said that she's his girlfriend, but I may have over-stated it: we see nothing at all of their prior relationship and only learn that they have a shared history of making porn flicks. Zano doesn't know her well enough to have been told her birthday. It may even be that by the end, she does find a connection within herself, is grounded. If she is, it is music which does it for her.
So, anyway, they are ostensibly walking to Algeria, but we see very little of them actually walking - trains seem to be the preferred mode. They jump a train to near Seville, not Seville itself because the ticket collector is on his way to check their non-existent tickets. They spend some time picking fruit around Seville, and having sex among the (I think) nectarine trees - gorgeous images in this part in particular, with the lush green leaves, the brilliantly red-skinned fruit and two beautiful people playing with each other. Seville, it turns out, is something of a staging post - they meet several Algerians working the fruit fields making their way to Paris because, there, you can get fake work papers. So, there's a nice point being made about our heroes doing the reverse, going to Algeria from Paris for their specific dream of getting in touch with their background. As they get closer to Algeria, they meet more and more refugees flowing the other way.
Their trip is otherwise fairly straight-forward, apart from stealing a ride in a van onto a ferry that's not going to Algeria at all, with a consequent need to take a long ride through near desert in a ramshackle bus that breaks down, after which they're smuggled across the border. The two things that stand out throughout their journey are the scenery and the music - in all the pubs in Seville, we see these impromptu gatherings of musicians just jamming. The back seat of the bus has three or four musicians to provide a live sound track for the trip.
When they don't have live music, Zano and Naima are both plugged into their respective disc-mans - giving Gatlif and his musical collaborator, Delphine Mantoulet, a chance to show off their music. I think this was deliberate - but as they approach their destination, there is less and less reliance on this recorded music and local live music predominates. This culminates in the final main scene - there's a gathering of musicians - a handful of percussionists with little bongo type drums held on their shoulders, a fellow with something not much bigger than a ukulele but with a much deeper sound, and various female voices, ululating rather than singing. Their tempos starts slow and reaches the orgasmic. Naimo is more and more feral in her dancing - she completely lets go and is controlled by the music. I really do think that this is showing her developing a connection with her roots: after all, it follows a scene in which she's told that her vacancy is down to being entirely groundless.
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