Sunday, March 3, 2013

Gypsy (orig Cigán) [2011]

MPAA (UR, would be PG-13)  AV Club (B+)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
CSFD* listing
Lidovky* review
AV Club review
Gypsy (orig Cigán) [2011] [IMDb] [CSFD*], a film by Slovakian director Martin Šulík [IMDb] [CSFD*] about a fictionalized Romani (Gypsy) teenager named Adam (played by Ján Mižigár [IMDb] [CSFD*]) living in a Romani village in contemporary Slovakia played recently as one of Slovakia's submissions to Chicago's 16th Annual European Union Film Festival held at the Gene Siskel Film Center in downtown Chicago.

The film was largely filmed in an actual contemporary Romani village* outside of the town of Richnava* in Slovakia.  All the Romani characters were played by Romani actors speaking the dialect of the village in which it was filmed.  Indeed, this was the first Slovakian film ever to be made almost entirely in the Romani language.*

For its technical excellence and its bravery in opening a window into a very controversial subject in contemporary Czech and Slovak society, the film won critical acclaim in both Slovakia and the Czech Republic.  It served as Slovakia's submission to the Best Foreign Language Film competition for the 2012 Oscars.*  It also won 4 awards including the Special Jury Prize at the 2011 Karlový Vary International Film Festival.*  More importantly, the film was covered favorably and with interest in the Romani press.

Despite such critical acclaim, the film did produce some protest in Slovakia (Slovakian Railways refused to allow the posting of advertisement posters for the film on its trains / railway stations on account of the film's negative portrayal of Slovakian Railway's treatment of Romani workers) and resounding (and in the opinion of the Czech "Rolling Stone"-like magazine Reflex shameful) silence among the Czech general public.* The gist of the Reflex article was that most of the lighter-skinned Czech general public simply prefers not to be bothered by the problems of the darker-skinned Romani community in its midst, which, of course, makes the film all the more interesting/important:  Why would a technically excellent and personable film be so ignored by its primary intended audience (the white Czech and Slovak public)?  

So what then is the actual film about?  The film is about a young Romani teenager, Adam (played by Ján Mižigár [IMDb] [CSFD*]), trying to make his way in the world encouraged by the legacy of his tragically deceased father, by a concerned and active local Catholic priest (played by Attila Mokos [IMDb] [CSFD*]) and by an idealistic Slovakian documentary film-maker to try to better himself, while pulled by his pragrmatic village "mafia like" Boss uncle (played by Miroslav Gulyas [IMDb] [CSFD*]) to remember first "who he is" (a Cigán what Czechs/Slovaks basically call Gypsies), become content with this fate, and then, like he, learn to thrive in it.

Indeed, Adam's uncle has learned to thrive in his situation.  Okay, he's done his time in prison at various times in his life.  But he scoffs at Adam when he comes home one day with a pair of sneakers and a couple of t-shirts he had received from the priest at the parish.  Why accept charity when you can steal better?  Mistreated at the odd job that the whites might give you?  Just learn to simply take what is your due.  And if you take "a bit more" than what was your due occasionally, fine, it all definitely evens out in the end.

In the person of Adam's uncle is both a fatalism and a resourcefulness that one can imagine could keep a beleaguered people alive but also self-evidently mistrusted by those who've been stolen from.

And while Adam is trying to figure-out his answer to this overarching Shakespearean drama: "To steal or not to steal..." he's also growing-up in other ways.  So there's a lovely Romani girl named Julka (played by Martina Kotlárová [IMDb] [CSFD*]) living a few shacks up the hill ... (Don't you just want to cry?)  But like that other Shakespearean drama, this budding romance finds itself "impossible" though for its own societally (both Romani and non) driven reasons.

Needless to say, much plays out in this very well constructed story.

Clearly, I liked this picture for both for its technical excellence and its challenge.  However, being American of Czech descent and also a Catholic priest, I'd like to extend that challenge beyond simply the rolling woodlands of Slavic Central Europe across the ocean to ethnic Slavic communities here in the United States.  I say this because in all honestly, Slavs have not had the "best of reputations" when it comes to race relations in the United States.  We, often called "ethnics" in the United States, have had a reputation of being very racist in our dealings with people of darker complexions (African Americans and Hispanics).

Having watched this film, I do wonder how much of this tendency of looking down on darker skinned people in the United States comes from a centuries honed mistrust/hatred of the indigenous darker-skinned Romani people "back home in the old country."

* Machine translations of Czech and Slovak links provided into English are most easily viewed through use of Google's Chrome brower.

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