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FILMS Austria

Review: Crush My Heart

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- Beggars can’t be choosers is the message at the heart of Alexandra Makarová’s directorial debut, an ill-fated Roma love story set in Vienna

Review: Crush My Heart
Simona Kováčová and Roman Pokuta in Crush My Heart

Alexandra Makarová researched both countries for two years in order to prepare for her directorial debut Crush My Heart, a multi-layered story which addresses the exploitation of young people ‘imported’ from Eastern Slovakia to work either as sex workers or beggars. An in-depth study of the lives of the Roma community living in the outskirts of Vienna and in slums in Slovakia was vital in order to understand the mechanisms of human trafficking and the harsh conditions under which modern slaves live. The director was inspired by an encounter with a Roma boy who has been begging on the streets of Vienna for many years. It’s his stories, and those she’d heard from people with similar experiences, that served as the blueprint for the film. 

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Rocky (František Balog) makes a living off the young people whose families owe him money, forcing them to come to Austria to work off their debts. They are all paying for their parents’ naiveté or ignorance with their own freedom, and their tormentor keeps them packed together like sardines in a room of a shabby house hidden in an inner courtyard of an anonymous Viennese district. The small army of slaves consists of a young mother, Terezka (excellent Simonida Selimović), who has been pushed into prostitution, her 12-year-old son Sandokan (Maximilian Six), her best friend Jessica (Martin Gábor) – a colleague in drag, and Rocky’s nephew Pepe (Roman Pokuta), a good-natured teen. Pepe, whose days are spent begging on the streets of Vienna and fulfilling Rocky’s every wish, suffers beatings and humiliation as a reward for his loyalty. Somewhere at the back of his mind he believes he’s working for his uncle, a family member who’s supposed to be taking care of him. Pepe’s life changes with the arrival of the new girl Marcela (Simona Kováčová), who puts both him and his uncle under her spell. At the risk of ending up on the streets as a prostitute, just like Terezka, Marcela is quick to accept Pepe’s offer to learn the beggar’s trade, but instead of avoiding the worst, she ignites a passion in Rocky, who’s attracted less by her beauty than by her adamant rejection of his come-ons. The nightmare is about to begin.

Makarová unveils an uncompromising world and uses safe, but not unproblematic methods, to reel her audience in. In order to make her protagonists more accessible and human, she flirts with clichés, letting them slip into the stereotypical roles of the culprit, whore, virgin and tragic saviour.  When love between Pepe and Marcela blossoms, the film follows a classic happy-go-lucky-to-miserable line. 

František’s strong acting performance dominates an almost entirely amateur cast, which also delivers strong performances. The music score, composed by Johannes Winkler, is strikingly good and was inspired by traditional Roma songs, sung by Vanja Toscana de Almeida.

The overly emotional undertone of the script, written by Makarová and Sebastian Schmidl, serves its purpose in most of film’s crucial scenes, which find support in Georg Weiss’ camera work, which switches from crisp, clear photography to colour-splashed imagery.

The film, world-premiered at the Diagonale in Graz earlier this year and now running in the main competition of the Art Film Fest Košice, was produced by Austrian veteran actor Simon Schwarz and Konstantin Seitz for Alternative Productions-Konstantin Seitz and is sold by Beta Cinema.

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