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Monday, January 6, 1997

It's literary cinema

Mondo approaches complete strangers with the question, "Will you adopt me?"

Posted By on Mon, Jan 6, 1997 at 12:00 AM

For the everyday working person, the persistence of tedium from day to day can be a killer. Tedium displaces new experience. The practice of lived monotony is harsh, because it leads us to replace intuition with protocol, thus making us forget the simple joys of life's unfolding.

The fortunate among us recover our appreciation through different revelations, be it a mishap, a chance encounter or maybe just a brush with fate. For the townspeople of Nice, France, recovery comes in the form of a 10-year-old boy named Mondo.

From director Tony Gatlif, Mondo is the first of esteemed French novelist J.M.G. Le Clézio's works to be adapted to the screen. Consistently artful and unceasingly lyrical, it works as literary cinema.

Both energetic and very spry for a homeless child, Mondo (Ovidiu Balan) approaches complete strangers with the question, "Would you like to adopt me?" Their reactions vary, but the help Mondo receives says a lot about the durability of the human spirit.

To his credit, Gatlif creates a style of cinematic impressionism to convey the boy Mondo's constant wonder and awe: colorful shots of trees, fruits, sunsets and seas; spontaneous sequences, and mostly surface-driven expressions of a film-long theme. Much of Mondo goes by without dialogue. Gatlif lets the images speak for themselves, creating an easy, rhythmic narrative that is just as simple as the message it gives.

Among all of Mondo's friends, the widow Thi-Chin (Pierette Fesch) shines the brightest with a carefully reined performance as she gradually becomes Mondo's surrogate mother. But all of the film's performances are strong, due to Gatlif's judicious casting choices. Dadi (Jerry Smith), the old vagabond who carries white doves in his ventilated suitcase, rings authentic, mostly because Smith is actually a homeless fisherman. Ovidiu Balan, the gypsy urchin who plays Mondo, was due to be deported from France prior to Gatlif's discovering him.

That's the degree of uncontrived essence the director has brought to this film, a work of unpackaged beauty that, like Mondo himself, excels at making us see life more clearly and easily.

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