Gypsy: chronicle of a tragedy
by Fabien Lemercier
"A gypsy can’t live like other human beings." Plunging into the heart of a small Romanian village populated by 2,000 Romany people, Gypsy, the seventh narrative feature by Slovakian director Martin Sulík, paints an uncompromising and highly realistic picture of the climate of tragedy haunting this community. Presented yesterday in competition at Les Arcs European Film Festival after winning several awards at Karlovy Vary (Special Jury Prize, Special Mention for young actor Ján Mižigár and Europa Cinemas Label), the film, which combines authenticity with a fine visual style, was shot almost entirely with non-professional actors.
Vaguely inspired by Hamlet, Gypsy (which was scripted by the director and Marek Lescak) opens with the death of the father of the main character: a 14-year-old teenager called Adam. This death tinged with suspicion ("you killed him, racists," the inhabitants yell at the police) immediately plunges viewers into the atmosphere of misfortune that goes hand in hand with gypsy life: extreme poverty (20 residents in the village work, the others survive on social security benefits or tough, casual jobs), patched-up huts, omnipresent verbal violence and latent aggressiveness, young people without hope dropping out of school, recruited into theft and sniffing glue, arranged marriages ("my family needs money")… But the director also accurately recreates the gypsy energy conveyed through music, religion, the sense of family and the presence of multiple children running in the streets.
Avoiding the pitfall of Manichaeism, Sulík paints a nuanced picture of an ostracised community often humiliated by the rest of the population (from racist jokes to contempt and police excesses), but also caught in the trap of its own contradictions, pride and paranoid responses ("White people never help you", "Take everything you can from them, that’s business").
By tracing the experiences of endearing Adam who refuses to steal, has a chaste passing infatuation with his neighbour Lena and gets offered the opportunity to leave the village to continue his studies, the Slovakian director presents a parable of the inexorable, the burden of the legacy of persecution on the drift towards delinquency. For the enemy is also within, in the form of the uncle (Miroslav Gulyas) with whom Adam’s mother has got remarried, a little authoritarian leader, loan-shark and organiser of criminal operations (petrol tank thefts).
Making the most of the natural setting for brief escapes into the forest and by the stream, giving the plot breathing space, Sulik shows a very confident sense of directing throughout the film. And despite a few questionable choices (the father’s ghost, the relatively “conventional” non-gypsy secondary characters and even some ostriches!), with Gypsy he pulls off a very interesting mix of genres, weaving a fictional and aesthetically-pleasing drama with a documentary approach to a subject that is particularly relevant in Europe today.
(Translated from French)