Vengo is writer-director Tony Gatlif’s homage to flamenco music thinly disguised as an old-fashioned revenge drama. The music is powerful and passionate and entrancing and endless — take away the musical sequences and this film would be about 20 or so minutes long. Unfortunately, those 20 or so minutes are clichéd, over-the-top and confusing, and no amount of soulful music can redeem them. This presents a bit of a quandary for the reviewer — if this were a CD, it’d be four stars, easy. But as an attempt to offer a dramatic corollary to the passionate music, this is a badly bobbled job.
Representing our point-of-view clan is Caco (Antonio Canales), a charismatic sleazeball whose brother has gone into hiding after committing the latest murder in an ongoing blood feud. Caco has taken his brother’s son, Diego, under his wing and both of them have become hot targets for the rival clan. Diego seems to be suffering from multiple sclerosis (it’s never spelled out) and one of the first things that sensitive-guy Caco does is set him up with a hooker. Afterward, when Caco asks Diego how it went, Diego replies “It wasn’t love,” a woeful comment which cracks up Caco to no end.
And that’s the best part of the dramatic portion of the movie. The rest comes in little pieces between the music and one begins to feel that Gatlif’s interests lie elsewhere. Just as something starts to seem interesting, like the relationship between some apparently hired muscle and the two families, it’s dropped.
Obviously the music is meant to comment on the story, to make it resonate, to thicken it with the blood and sex of its cruel syncopations. And it might have worked that way had the mix of music and story been a little more equal. As it is, the constant pausing for musical interludes starts to seem like filler and the story shrinks to insignificance – not too difficult a feat, since it’s all a load of caco to begin with.
Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit), Monday at 7:30 p.m. Call 313-833-3237.
Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].