Charles Chaplin thought for many years that he was born in greater London in 1889. Son of artists from the music-hall, he never managed to find his birth certificate, something otherwise common in traveling families of the show. Chaplin always knew that his father was half a gypsy. But his mother, Hannah, did not reveal her origin to him until shortly before she died, in 1928, when she confessed to her son that she was 100% gypsy, and the sister of a Romani queen. Therefore, Chaplin was also a gypsy. In 2011, 34 years after the death of the filmmaker, her daughter Victoria opened a desk drawer in the family’s Swiss mansion, about to become a museum. And he found a letter sent to the artist in the early seventies by an octogenarian, in which it was specified that Chaplin had been born in a camp in the Black Patch park, at that time a huge gypsy settlement near Birmingham. Of the millions of letters received in life, the artist had only kept that letter signed by a certain Jack Hill.
Today the Chaplin family wants to underline the origins of one of the geniuses of the 20th century with the documentary Charles Chaplin, A Man of the World, Directed and co-written —together with Amaia Remírez and Isaki Lacuesta— by a granddaughter, Carmen Chaplin, and produced by another of her granddaughters, her sister Dolores. The film, in pre-production phase, reviews her life on a trip to France, Switzerland, Serbia, the United Kingdom, Romania and Spain, and reviews her cinema and music from the point of view of her Roma origin. A small preview of the film has been presented at the BCN Film Fest in Barcelona, and it already appears who will be the motor of the narration, Michael Chaplin, son of the filmmaker and Oona O’Neill, his fourth and last wife (and mother from eight of the filmmaker’s 11 children).
Carmen and Dolores had planned to shoot in the middle of last year, but the pandemic curtailed their plans. Both are Londoners, daughters of Michael and Patricia Betaudier, daughter of the Trinidadian painter Patrick Betaudier. While Dolores, 46, a producer and resident of Madrid, has developed a career in front of the camera, her sister Carmen, a year older, has preferred to focus on directing. Charlie [así llaman las dos a su abuelo] He told my father as a child the whole story of the gypsy ancestors, and he revealed it to him with great happiness, and he in turn told us when we were children, which multiplied our desire for adventure. We were half gypsies! ”, They say. In the film, in which they do not want to tell who will participate beyond a couple of names, those of the filmmakers Emir Kusturica and Tony Gatlif. “Artists will participate to help us reinterpret Charlie’s work with this vision, creators who have a Romani or Bohemian soul. We can’t say more, because we want it to be a surprise. Michael will travel and talk to them ”, they explain. The film, designed for cinemas, will be finished in the summer of 2022, and has a 70% Spanish production (the rest comes from several European countries) and has even closed its distribution in theaters in Spain.
The two Chaplin’s remember their grandfather. “We were very young,” starts Dolores. “At Christmas we would get together as many children and grandchildren as possible in Switzerland, and Charlie, from his wheelchair, would tell the children stories. Unfortunately, we do not remember them, but we do remember how we pushed ourselves to be as close to the chair as possible ”. Carmen completes the memory: “We also watched a lot of home movies. Our grandmother filmed many, to document her travels and her moments of family happiness ”. Excerpts of this material will appear in Charles Chaplin, A Man of the World. “It’s funny because we never thought that our grandfather was also Charlot, they were like different existences; We do not feel the pressure of the surname, and the older we get, the less it imposes ”, they say. Chaplin passed away on Christmas Day 1977. “This Roma heritage underscored a feeling of our father, that of statelessness, which he carries with pride, which in turn comes from Charlie, who did not understand nationalisms, who hated the concept of patriot. He liked to underline, as in the speech of The great Dictator, that he was a citizen of the world. So when they said for years that he was Jewish, Charlie never denied it. What did it matter? If people get a shock Knowing that he was a gypsy, the better, it will mean that it will open some minds ”.
In the trailer for the documentary, Michael talks about the film The pilgrim (1923) in which an American policeman pushes Chaplin to Mexico. The protagonist crosses the border and encounters a shootout. On the other side are law enforcement, so Chaplin wanders off into the desert with one foot on each side. “It is a good example of what I thought, it was like the gypsies, who live in two worlds, theirs and the one marked by official papers,” explains Michael from the screen. In person, his daughters tell another anecdote: “One day Michael beat a boy, and as punishment his teacher made him copy 20 times the speech of The great Dictator. Back home, he told Charlie about it, and Charlie asked him, pondering aloud, if the text still made sense. Today, every day, film directors, rappers, playwrights, other musicians ask for the reproduction rights of that parliament. It is more relevant than ever ”.
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