By Indiewire | Indiewire August 6, 1998 at 2:0AM
Rona Hartner Raps and Writhes in "Gadjo Dilo"
Rona Hartner is a triple threat: a singer, dancer and actress -- and
quite the stage and rock star in her native country of Romania. But
over here in little, old America, the 25-year-old Greek-Armenian beauty
is making her theatrical film debut in Tony Gatlif's latest feature,
"Gadjo Dilo" ("Crazy Outsider") -- opening in selected markets tomorrow
-- where she plays Sabina, a passionate, writhing gypsy performer who
gets so hot in one scene, she bites into a tree. The "crazy outsider"
refers to Stephane (Romaine Duris), a Paris musician who comes to
Sabina's remote village in search of the eerie lament of a gypsy singer
his father once adored. But what Stephane finds instead is a love for
Sabina and the enchanting and sorrowful world of the gypsies. Although
eventually scripted, director Gatlif ("Latcho Drom") improvised much of
the production and used gypsies from the village in major roles, causing
some baffling situations as Hartner explains below.
Although Hartner starred in a couple of English-language vampire movies
shot in Romania when she was 20, the rising actress is now taking on
only the most esteemed of projects, embarking on an international music
and movie career. After winning a Best Actress award at last year's
Locarno festival for her performance in "Gadjo Dilo," she went on to
sign with United Talent Agency and has a three CD production deal with a
major music label. After a few mis-scheduled attempts to meet,
indieWIRE trekked out to Williamsburg, Brooklyn yesterday to join a
mildly hung over Hartner over Power Juices and double espressos.
indieWIRE: Did you work with Tony Gatlif on the music in the film?
Rona Hartner: The music in the movie is my concept. It is the beginning
of a style that I invented, called gypsy rap. I am going to make a
gypsy rap jazz. In the beginning of the movie, it is my melody. It is
my fusion style. Tony Gatlif came with the verse, and I translated the
gypsy and did the arrangements. So yes, we worked together.
iW: What was it like working with Tony Gatlif?
Hartner: It was very interesting because he wanted non-professional
actors as the examples. He was looking to them and then to me and would
say, "You're not a gypsy yet" and I didn't understand what he wanted.
He'd say, "No, no, no, I don't want a character, I want you to be
yourself because you have enough gypsy in you, you are like this." And
I began to search for where this place was, where he saw this gypsy in
me. Of course, it exists. I began to explore my life. And at the same
time, I was working on my dancing. And all the time, he was strict on
dancing. He understood that I had the gypsy rhythm, but it was very
stressful for me, because he asked of me very much. Of course, actors
protect themselves. To not be so open. Because when you are committing
"hari kari" [she makes a motion with a knife in her chest] like this and
you're putting all your sentiments there, it costs you. It costs you
very much. And this is what he wanted, for me to be open, to be so
open, but also to learn the gypsy life, language, dance -- to be
trained, to be trained as strict as in the theater of Peter Brook.
Then, in the last month, he said, "Okay, now, you are a gypsy." And
then he cut half the screenplay and wrote a whole new screenplay. He
said he was inspired and he changed it completely. At night, we would
ask him, "What are we going to play tomorrow?" And he said, "You'll
see." If I knew what we were doing, I could try to think and prepare
myself. Sometimes, I knew what it would be like and I would ask the guy
who was teaching me gypsy, to give me some possible text.
iW: But there is not a lot of text, there is not a lot of dialogue. Most
of it is physically relating.
Hartner: Yes, this was very important. Everything was very precious.
Sometimes, I said nothing, I was just gesturing. But it was very
precious. Gatlif wanted it to be very strong. The atmosphere was very
iW: You are Romanian. But you lived in Bucharest, in cities, and now
you live in Paris -- how close was that village-life to any experience
that you've had?
Hartner: Very far. I had no idea. Village life was a secret for me. I
understood it little by little. I came into the village at first, and
imagined that I knew everything. Because I love them, I felt like I was
in my home. I integrated myself very quickly, because I admire the
gypsies. They are so strong. I don't know how they can live the way
they do. They have a very difficult life, but at the same time, they
are so strong and so open. They aren't stressed, they dance, they make
children, they think about love, they take the time to cry -- I think
that maybe because they are in this village, they are protected from
this modern life which kills everybody. The gypsies are okay, making 20
children. They have enough trouble with this. They are very clean.
People always say gypsies aren't clean, but they are very clean. And
all their life is very organized, with very old principles. This is
what I discovered. . . They changed me very much. I wasn't like this.
I had too much education, too much stress. When I came there, I saw
that life is more important. Of course, you have to work and you have
to eat, but you can have a life also.
iW: How did they react to the camera and the crew? One of the leads,
Izador, he's not an actor, he's just someone from the village. . .
Hartner: No, he isn't an actor. There were 3,000 people in the village,
all who wanted to be actors in the movie. Tony Gatlif said, this isn't
some big Hollywood production, this a little production. And they all
got so jealous, they would make scandals to stop the movie, because
everyone wanted to be in it. Romania and the gypsies are very like the
Americans, because everyone thinks they are in a movie. They were like
this, our gypsies. Every morning, Tony Gatlif did casting to take
someone from each family. But they didn't wear the same clothes. You
couldn't stop them to say, "Yesterday, you were dressed in something
When there was the scene when everybody was screaming, the Frenchman is
going to steal our children, Tony Gatlif had to stop them, because they
really wanted to fight. He had to stop scenes all the time. It was very
difficult to make, because they understood the situations, but they
really wanted to fight. In one scene, my father in the movie was
telling me that I shouldn't be with the Frenchman and he had to scream
at me. Gatlif didn't put it into the movie, but the father really hit
me. He hurt me. The women saved me. They were all very involved.
When Izador was crying when he finds out that his musician-friend is
dead, he cried so much, he was sick two days after this scene. He was
crying and crying, because he thought about somebody close to him. Tony
Gatlif told him, "You have to think of somebody that you lost." He
thought of one of his boys who died, his 14th child.
iW: The environment sounds kind of wild?
Hartner: Yes, after working, it was exhausting. All the time, they were
crying. Right now, I realize that I'm exactly like them. I had to do
scenes that were not just scenes in a movie. For Tony Gatlif, every
scene was taken from my life, from my affective memory. When there were
these scenes, every time it was very personal. He was telling me
something, he attacked me and I would lose my balance and then we'd do
the scene. After this, he'd apologize, but I'd be crying all day. We
really took our time to live this movie. This movie is lived.
iW: Your character is very passionate. There is a real fire inside you.
Hartner: Yeah. I consider Tony Gatlif really . . . he's perfect. He's
a great director. He was like a God. He could tell me whatever he
wanted and I believed in him like a God. When Tony Gatlif said
something, I changed everything. And this is very hard to find, such a
relationship in cinema. In France, they propose to me many movies, but
they are surprised because I refuse many movies. . . When somebody comes
with a good project, I don't know, I've heard somebody is doing Frida
Kahlo, yes, this is a good project, maybe.
iW: So you haven't done any other movies since "Gadjo Dilo"?
Hartner: I'm doing another movie with Tony Gatlif in January, an
experimental movie, very avant-garde, very crazy -- you'll see. It will
be released next year. Last September, I made a television movie with a
very good French director. Right now, I'm working on producing my
compact disc. I also made a new group and I'm going to Senegal to
produce my first single. This is what I'm doing. And I'm training