Tony Gatlif, the French-Romani director of Cannes hits Exils and Geronimo, returns with Tom Medina, a semi-autobiographical Camargue Western named so for the dusty Southern France region where his films are set.
Tom Medina (David Murgia) is a drifter. On probation, he journeys to Camargue, where he meets up with farm owner Ulysse (Slimane Dazi) to serve probation for a past, mysteriously unmentioned crime. The protagonist’s dream, though, is to reach Spain and become a bullfighter. The limber, good-natured Medina is well-characterised by Murgia, who never descends to wallowing in his performance, even as his stay becomes fraught when he is caught between his attempts at self-realisation and his burgeoning lust for local woman Suzanne (Suzanne Aubert).
Gatlif uses the environment with a preternatural eye for poetry. Light seems to bounce off of the surroundings, shimmering around the character to turn Camargue into a liminal dream zone. This becomes more than suggestive when a magical bull walks into Medina’s room at night, glowing like one of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s apparitions of a past life.
Outside of this representative totem for the protagonist’s matador dreams, the interpersonal dramas feel underdeveloped. Ulysse might seem tough at first, riding his horse through a bog, chiding Medina for his lateness, but he is a big-hearted fellow who only wants the best for people in his orbit. Gestures to the contemporary are only revealed when his daughter (Karoline Rose) is shown livestreaming her heavy metal one-woman band to her 20,000 followers. But though Patrick Ghiringhelli’s cinematography captures the region with extraordinary beauty, Gatlif doesn’t manage to make his quasi-western into something of mythic proportions.
Sure, the character’s candide-like spirit is poisitioned against the cruelty of an unflinching world, but with such an artificially heightened aesthetic, it never seems more than a bed-time allegory. Tom Medina’s mixture of folk wisdom, frontier tropes and good old-fashioned romance may have a swoonsome charm in the moment, but the film never manages to really sell the audience something believable, and winds up feeling inert.
Tom Medina does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2021 coverage here.
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