Swing (2002)

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Released 27-Jan-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy Main Menu Audio
Featurette-Gypsy music (11:27)
Theatrical Trailer-Original French trailer (1:22)
Trailer-Tony Gatlif films - Latcho Drom, Vengo, Gadjo Dilo
Trailer-The Kid Stays In The Picture, Satin Rouge, Russian Ark
Trailer-Yi Yi, Calle 54, Amandla
DVD Credits
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 2002
Running Time 86:35 (Case: 91)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (61:41) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Tony Gatlif
Studio
Distributor
Princes Films
Madman Entertainment
Starring Mandino Reinhardt
Abdellatif Chaarani
Fabiene May
Tchavolo Schmitt
Oscar Copp
Lou Rech
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI ? Music Mandino Reinhardt
Tchavolo Schmitt
Abdellatif Chaarani


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None French Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    I don't know, but maybe I should just avoid anything from Hollywood and stick to "foreign" films from now on. Rarely do I find something to surprise from our unallocated list that comes from the United States. On the other hand, there often seems to be a surprise of two from the rest of the world. So it is with Swing. Whilst it certainly had not been on the unallocated list for long, its presence eventually was too much for me to ignore. After all, this is a film that Empire rated five stars. There are certainly instances where I have disagreed with a film they award five stars to, but they don't get it wrong that often in my view. So somewhere in the back of my mind was jangling the name of this film and eventually the connection was made and it headed my way for review. Having now seen the film, I can only say I was d*** lucky.

    While not a classic, it is certainly a very good film and one I am very glad to have now seen. I think it is also a film that I will return to watch again in the near future. Why? There is simply something quite engaging about the film. The story is not the greatest ever but it provides the necessary framework for the real essence of the film - a look at the oft-maligned and persecuted gypsy way of life, and some very engaging music.

    The story centres predominantly around three characters: Max (Oscar Copp), Swing (Lou Rech) and Miraldo (Tchavolo Schmitt). Max is visiting his grandmother for the summer holidays and discovers the gypsies and in particular their music as exemplified by Miraldo. Determined to acquire a guitar and to learn this music, Max does so and is soon taking lessons from the virtuoso Miraldo, in exchange for providing a service that he requires: reading and writing. However, his attention soon wanders to a young gypsy girl, Swing, to whom he soon becomes an inseparable friend. Friendship soon blossoms into the first steps of young love as Max comes to see more in the gypsy life than he first thought. Aside from learning their music, Max soon takes an active interest in understanding the life of the gypsies as he bridges the gap between childhood and adolescence.

    At the core of this film is the music, and the film really is all about the music as such an important part of the life of the gypsies. However, the music itself forms a frame around which the delights of young love can be woven in a really exquisite, heart-warming way. But ultimately there is a stronger message to the film: breaking down the prejudices that have always been associated with the gypsy way of life in Europe. That message is so eloquently stated by the simple means of a single line in the film from Miraldo: not even his children are interested in the music. Yet here is the almost-antithesis of the gypsy in a well educated, middle class, probably privileged boy actively seeking knowledge and understanding of not just the music but the entire way of life of the gypsy. This is no more poignantly handled than in a touching scene where the elderly Puri Dai (Hélène Mershtein) relates the stories of what happened to the gypsies during World War Two.

    Where the film scores, apart from the utterly superb music, is just some wonderful film making. No huge budget blockbuster this, but rather a beautifully paced, lovingly filmed and naturally portrayed effort that almost lives for its understatement. And understated it is in many respects as we follow the everyday occurrences of the summer holiday as Max and Swing grow closer together, before the end of the summer. The simple joys of two young boys swiping a beer or two from the adults, two friends enjoying the pleasure of fishing for trout and gliding the waterways near their town, the excruciating agony of trying to master the music of a virtuoso. Everything is so utterly believable, so real that it almost becomes like a dream of the summer holidays we used to enjoy as carefree kids, many many years ago in my case. In some ways too that is part of the gypsy lifestyle that has been held against them, but as this film ultimately shows, there is little different between the gypsies and anyone else if we choose to open our middle class minds to something different. Tony Gatlif is not a name with which I am that familiar and I have not seen one of his films before. On the evidence here, that is an oversight that I should surely rectify as soon as possible. His direction here is assured and he allows everything to develop so naturally.

    A wonderful discovery that almost passed me by. A very good film presented on a very decent DVD - what more could you possibly ask for? Forget the big budget Hollywood trash - another rental release that you should cast your eyes over. Not as immediately awesome as City Of God but in its own way it tells the tale end of a very sorry history of the persecution of the gypsies, as well as taking us all back to that first love.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    If I tell you this was shot with anamorphic lenses, would you like to guess what the transfer looks like? If you know comments I have made in the past about films shot anamorphically, you will know that we will have a sharp, vibrant transfer that just reeks quality. Well, we have, with one of two provisos.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 measured, and it is 16x9 enhanced.

    Simple stuff here: wonderfully sharp and detailed transfer, not a skerret of grain to be found, superbly clear, and tremendously vibrant. Shadow detail is wonderful, and you can cheerfully forget anything like low level noise. This is as good a looking film as I have seen recently and is even better than the likes of City Of God.

    Colours are wonderful too, with plenty of even, deep tones across the palette. Blacks are beautifully handled and flesh tones are just about spot on. Saturation is perfect throughout and there is not even a hint of colour bleed.

    The only hint of MPEG issues is in some loss of resolution in a moving pan shot around 48:10, but I would be fairly confident in saying that this would be inherent in the source material. Where the transfer really starts to approach pear shaped is in the aliasing. Maybe it is just me but it seems that just every transfer that comes from Madman through The AV Channel is usually very good, but let down by film-to-video artefacting. This is no exception. While none of the instances noted are really dire, the fact is that aliasing is a consistent problem in the transfer with examples seen at 7:09 in the building, at 8:45 in the guitar strings (a common problem but nowhere near as bad as it could have been), at 22:12 in the caravan, at 37:35 in the bridge railing and so on. Add into the mix some minor moiré artefacting in the shirts, such as at 36:27, and the slight lack of attention to detail in the mastering becomes a little disappointing. As was expected, the transfer is very clean and there are few instances of film artefacts to be found.

    This is an RSDL formatted disc, with the layer change coming at 61:41. It is barely noticeable, and really does not impede the film at all.

    The only subtitle option on the DVD is a selectable English option. Whilst my French is rather rusty, what I managed to understand of the original film dialogue seemed to accord well with the subtitles.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are two audio tracks on the DVD, both of them French: one in Dolby Digital 5.1 and the other in Dolby Digital 2.0. My French is not the best (well, rusty might be just overstating the mark a little) but some of the dialogue is not actually in French but Romany if my memory serves me right (I think my entire Romany vocabulary extends to one word). I listened to the 5.1 soundtrack in its entirety, and only briefly sampled the 2.0 soundtrack.

    Being a very dialogue and music driven film, it is vital that the soundtrack can convey the sound in the best possible way. This it does in abundance and even with my slowly improving French, all the dialogue was clear and easy to understand. There was no problem with audio sync in the transfer at all.

    Obviously the film lives by its music and the original music comes from Abdellatif Chaarani, Tony Gatlif, Mandino Reinhardt and Tchavolo Schmitt. If you cannot enjoy this soundtrack then there is something seriously, seriously wrong with your musical appreciation in a huge way. I don't think I have enjoyed a soundtrack as much as this in ages. The foot had a virtually impossible task to stop moving to the at-times wonderfully intoxicating rhythms. Absolutely wonderful stuff in every way and it is just a crying shame that we do not get an isolated music score here.

    There is a very short word that adequately describes the six channel Dolby Digital soundtrack: superb. Brilliantly clear and open, the surround encoding here is utterly wonderful. There are times in this film when the ambient bird sounds are so superbly rendered that the effect is virtually spot on in the sweet spot such that I sat there swearing that the sounds were coming from the birds singing outside. Its not just the natural sounds either that are so well dealt with - the trains passing on the railway are as realistic as I have ever heard in a film. When the low frequency is needed, it comes into play in a very suitable, supportive manner and barely raises any issue in itself - a rarity amongst discs through my player it seems. All this excellence comes also as a by-product of a soundtrack that has absolutely nothing at all in the way of blemishes or problems. This is virtually a perfect transfer in every way and if you want demonstration sound involving more natural sounds, this is it.

    The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is in its own way the equal of the six channel effort. From the sample I made, this is a very good soundtrack in just about every way too. Clean, clear and open, with nothing to complain about.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    On the face of it a reasonable extras package accompanies the film, but the reality is a little different.

Menu

    Given the superb visuals of the film, the menus are really not at all in keeping with the film. With modest audio so that you cannot escape that infectious music, they are also 16x9 enhanced.

Featurette - Gypsy Music in Swing (11:27)

    To call this a featurette is something of a misnomer. This really is nothing more than eleven odd minutes of behind the scenes footage shot presumably during rehearsals and filming, with no narration and little or no context. That is not to say that there is nothing to enjoy here but rather that it could and should have been so much more. Given the absolute importance of the music to the film, that it should have so much focus in the extras is a given - but it needed to have some context given to it, so that we know what is going on and what was trying to be achieved. Presented in a Full Frame format that is not 16x9 enhanced, it comes with good Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Unfortunately, some of the low-light shot footage is rather grainy, which otherwise detracts away from the very good quality of the video. There are some instances of aliasing and moiré to be found, which is a tad disappointing.

Theatrical Trailer - Original French (1:22)

    Of excellent technical quality, this is a reasonable trailer in all respects - although I would hardly say that it conveyed the joy of the film to the fullest extent possible. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with good French Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Trailer - Tony Gatlif Films (5:39)

    This comprises trailers for three Tony Gatlif films:

    There is some interesting stuff here, although the technical quality of the trailers is rather variable. Latcho Drom is well blighted with film artefacts and the colour is rather "off" - whether intentionally or not I don't know since I have never seen the film. Vengo is very good looking whilst Gadjo Dilo is somewhere between the other two.

Madman Propaganda

    The obligatory batch of trailers for (presumably) forthcoming or recent releases from The AV Channel. This time round we get The Kid Stays In The Picture (1:30), Satin Rouge (1:38), Russian Ark (2:11), Yi Yi (1:50), Calle 54 (1:15) and Amandla (1:37). The only one I have seen before is Calle 54. Apart from the latter, which is presented in a Full Frame format, all are presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. They are uniformly not 16x9 enhanced and have Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Aside from Amandla, which is taken from some appallingly poor source material, the technical quality is generally very good. Russian Ark has more than a few film artefacts floating around and the sound is a bit hissy, whilst Calle 54 is a bit grainy. Yi Yi in particular is quite beautiful looking. Amandla on the other hand suffers from some source material that has inherent issues and looks like it might have been mastered from a tape taken from a faulty source, being of very poor quality with some very poor colour.

DVD Credits

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The only online reviews I can find of the film on DVD are from Region 4, and I cannot seem to find the film available on DVD in any region - at least on mainstream sites in English. Of course, there may well be a very good Region 2 release in France... On the basis of what I can find however, we have little choice for this film at the moment.

Summary

    Swing was an unexpectedly good film that I am fortunate to have grabbed for review. The film itself is very nicely crafted and immensely enjoyable. The video transfer is otherwise excellent but for an aliasing issue that seems to be a bit of a consistent problem with the AV Channel releases through my player in the past twelve months. The audio transfer is a gem and a half and is worth the price of admission alone. The extras package is lacking in quality. If you need to check out something different in the way of a rental, you could do a lot worse (and rarely much better) than this.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Monday, November 10, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-1600, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Aconda 9381ZW. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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