Everyone’s family has drama, complexity and intrigue, but in just about any related contest, Rachel Leah Jones would win. Repping a shift into autobiographical terrain after the social-justice issues of her prior docs, “Gypsy Davy” buzzes around the still-growing biological legacy of Jones’ father, a renowned flamenco guitarist who has pollinated many a female flower. Structured not chronologically but in a way that decades-old family secrets continue to unfold and surprise well into the pic’s progress, this fascinating, ambivalent coming-to-terms should hook viewers in plenty of territories, particularly via upscale broadcasters.
A Rachel Leah Jones and Philippe Bellaiche presentation in association with Channel 8-HOT. Produced by Bellaiche, Jones.
Making clear her ambivalent emotions from the start, her voiceover narration a frequently accusatory letter to Dad, the U.S.-born Israeli helmer begins about a decade ago, as she visits her father for the first time in several semi-estranged years — the occasion being that he’s suffered a broken pelvis and shattered wrist. “I thought, ‘He’s broken the only things he knows how to use,'” she snaps. The wrist part is key to David Jones’ successful reinvention of himself as David Serva, a “gypsy” guitarist discovered a half-century ago by master/mentor Diego el del Gastor during a youthful pilgrimage to Andalusia.
The pelvis turns out to have had an even longer career, producing five children by five women, some of the latter amateur or professional flamenco dancers, most abandoned to raise their offspring alone when Serva moved on to his next immorata. Only the first spouse left him, prompting the realization that he didn’t have to spend the rest of his life in one relationship. That discovery would cause numerous people a lot of grief, the filmmaker high among them.
“Gypsy Davy” would have been diverting enough if it had painted its titular figure as simply that musician stereotype, the seductive, short-attention-spanned lout. But Serva is more complicated than that, and so is the film. In the end we realize there is indeed some sense of guilt lurking behind his shrugs of “What’s done is done.” The impact of his neglect has differed among his children, ranging from a flamenco-prodigy son to another, Marty Jones, who gave up a highly successful music career (as co-founder of rock group Counting Crows) because he feared repeating his father’s behavior.
Much of this is “stranger than fiction,” all of it as engrossing as a flavorsome, twisty literary novel. Docu is full of colorful personalities (especially the intelligent, headstrong women David had serial long-term involvements with while tomcatting on the side), as well as music — mostly casual performances in cafes and living rooms, but also some archival and recent concert excerpts.
Assembly is excellent, even if much of the material (going back to homemovies) is visually rough. Jones and co-editor Erez Laufer merit special credit for finding a narrative shape as complex as the family tree it charts.