Friday, November 15, 2013

Papusza [2013]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13)  EyeForFilm.UK (3 1/2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing listing* (J. Zalesiński) review (G. Fortuna) review* (M. Sadowska) review* (D. Romanowska) review (I. Pelczar) review* (R. Mowe) review
TheHollywoodReporter (S. Dalton) review

Papusza [2013] [IMDb] []* (written and directed by Joanna Kos-Krauze [IMDb] []* and  Krzysztof Krauze [IMDb] []*) is an all black-and-white, heavily stylized, Polish/Romani language (English subtitled) biopic that tells the story of Bronisława Wajs (Papusza) [1908--1987], the first Polska Roma (Polish Gypsy) poet to ever be published.  The film played recently at the 25th Polish Film Festival in America held in Chicago between Nov 8-24, 2013.

The film is intentionally "dreamy" / non-linear in its narrative style as it tells the story Papusza, her name meant "doll" (played by Paloma Mirga []* when Papusza was young, and by Jowita Budnik [IMDb] []* in adulthood), as she was born, after all, into an itinerant clan of Polska Roma gypsies.

The Romani people (who prefer to be called by that name rather than "gypsies") came to Europe from India in the 14th century and had famously never settled down, in part by choice and in part as a result of resentments/prejudices of local already settled populations.  The result has been a centuries long history of living at the margins of European society -- of persecutions, attempts at forced assimilation (first beginning during the reign of Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa in the 1700s and continuing in most Communist held central/eastern Europe through to the end of the Cold War Era), extermination (under the Nazis), and sterillization (in Communist-era Czechoslovakia).  Papusza lived during the eras of Nazi occupation and post-WW II/Communist Era coerced assimilation and the film portrays both times as well as that of pre-WW II Poland.

A people surviving for a prolonged period of history simply by its wits can be expected to suffer the effects of such prolonged isolation -- tendencies toward greater than normal paranoia and an excessive reliance on superstition to give meaning/justification/purpose to the otherwise inexplicable (and perhaps to the otherwise inexplicably unjust).  And its clear in this film that Papusza suffered enormously as a result of this during her life. 

As a young Polska Roma woman growing-up in rural Poland of the 1920s, she was actively discouraged, above all, by the women from her own clan from learning to read and write, being told that such knowledge leads to witchcraft and that "nothing good can come from it."  Indeed, writing in general seemed to be frowned upon in her community.  All that a Roma needed to know could be learned / recalled by memory (either individually or collectively by the group).  Writing things down could only serve those "on the outside" to hurt Romas.

Papusza did learn to read/write against her community's wishes by (as per the film) striking a deal with a similarly skeptical and like the Romas, marginalized, Jewish woman (Jews, albeit far more established/sedentary, in rural pre-WWII Poland were also quite marginalized) -- chickens for lessons.

Her talent as a poet was discovered by a young Polish poet/intellectual named Jerzy Ficowski (played in the film by Antoni Pawlicki [IMDb] []*), who had lived in hiding with Papusza's clan during WW II.  Yet, after publication of some of her poems (and a book by Jerzy Ficowski about Poland's Roma peoples) Papusza was effectively disowned by her clan which apparently convinced itself that she betrayed their people's secrets:  "How can we continue to survive if now 'they' know 'everything' about us?"

For her part, poor Papusza apparently lived a good part of the rest of her life in a mental institution having suffered due to this heartache (her own adopted son who she had saved during the Roma Holocaust disowned her as a result of the publication of her poems) a break with reality.  Eventually, she convinced herself that she "never wrote anything."

And it's of course a terrible shame because Papusza will certainly be remembered as a Romani patriot and one who arguably helped save her people by helping those on the outside to understand it better.

All in all a lovely if very, very sad story portrayed in a beautiful, dreamlike way.

* Foreign language webpages are most easily translated using Google's Chrome Browser.

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