Mondo’s most intense connection is with an elderly woman (Ange Gobbi) of Jewish and Vietnamese background. This cultured, lonely traveler invites him to share her hillside villa, but he eventually gets his usual wanderlust — just as dull city officials decide to rid the spotless town of all outsiders, such as stray dogs, foreigners and orphans. The absence of this big-eyed child, whose smile is brighter than any moon, immediately hits the townspeople, who walk around in an inexplicable daze, their joie de vivre suddenly chilled.
To dwell on precise plot turns is to belabor all the wrong points about “Mondo.” It’s a story made of lovingly crafted moments, some involving tender or confused interactions between humans, some as simple and arresting as discarded oranges bobbing in a sky-blue cove. Pic recalls earlier era of “The Red Balloon” as well as stylized quality of soft-spoken Iranian films like “The Runner.” A minority of fest auds have found Gatlif’s pic slow and meandering. To the rest, it’s a rare example of uncluttered magic, aided by unfailingly lush (but uncliched) lensing and a world-music score that dips into tunes from all over.
Most memorably, “Mondo” benefits from the unmistakably natural performance of young Balan, a boy whose guileless radiance mirrors the wonder at life we all start out with.