Movie Review By Heather Clisby
One day he was just there, of unknown origin - the beautiful gypsy boy with the winning smile, approaching strangers, politely asking: 'Would you like to adopt me?' Bright-eyed and wily, Mondo runs in fear when asked his age, where he lives or if he has a family. To these simple questions, he has no answers.
"Mondo" marks the first film release for French director Tony Gatlif since his critically-acclaimed "Latcho Drom." Significantly, it is the first time that J.M.G. Le Clezio, the highly revered contemporary French writer, has allowed one his works to be brought to the screen. The meshing of these two talents has created a film that is one half poem, one half painting. Wisely, Gatlif opted to use non-professional actors, thus giving the film an overall natural intimacy.
The story takes places in the seaside town of Nice, France. Opening scenes taken within cozy food shops, look outward to the cold street and into the longing eyes of Mondo, a boy of about 10. Mondo must have had SOME guidance along the way, he never thinks to steal but applies an affectual charm to earn food and win friends.
Instinctively, Mondo scurries away whenever uniformed authority appears, be it police, coast guard or dogcatchers. In fact, dogcatchers are presented as the most fearful because, as one final scene demonstrates, Mondo sees himself as another breed of mongrel.
Mondo chooses his friends wisely and they take to him with trusting ease. Giordan, the fisherman, tells him about the Red Sea and teaches him to read using smooth beach stones. Dadi, a homeless Scotsman, shares with Mondo his beloved pigeons and his friendship with a local magician. Tai Chin, a Vietnamese woman, provides much-needed maternal care to Mondo and, in fact, we soon see that she needs him just as much.
Food itself should be listed as a co-star. It is a constant theme in the film, symbolic of life itself. From the candy factory process, to the vivid bounties of the outdoor market, to the charitable hunk of fresh baked bread ó the void that is hunger never ends. One particular morning, Mondo enjoys a fresh-picked pomegranate for breakfast and washes it down with morning dew, captured in a leaf like a diamond gift.
Such is his world; chosen or not, we donít know. Strangely enough, Gatlifís film about a homeless young boy is more uplifting than morose. While Mondo endures loneliness, fear, freezing rain and stone benches, he finds great joy in the smallest details of life. When Mondo sits on the sidewalk, watching busy people swish by, he thinks, 'Wait for me!' In truth, it is they who should stop and learn from Mondoís world.
© 1997 - Heather Clisby - Air Date: 6/25/97
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