J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Gypsy: A Roma Tragedy


Historically, the Roma have been ethnically targeted by police forces worldwide, far beyond the much derided “racial profiling” of current controversies.  As a result, it was already hard being Roma in an area like eastern Slovakia, but the death of Adam’s father makes things much worse for the young man.  His mother’s hasty marriage to his thuggish uncle does not help either in Martin Šulík’s Shakespearean social issue drama Gypsy (trailer here), which opens this Wednesday in New York at Film Forum.

Despite the echoes of Hamlet, Adam’s father was hardly the King of the Roma and he is certainly no prince.  He is still visited by his father’s ghost, but the dear departed is more concerned with his son’s well being than seeking vengeance for his early demise.  Still, there is something naggingly suspicious about the accident that claimed the old reformed ruffian’s life.

Seething with resentment for “whitey,” Uncle Žigo is not a stabilizing influence.  Much to Adam’s alarm, he involuntarily recruits the young man and his more passive brother for a number of dubious criminal schemes.  The local Catholic priest tries to keep Adam on the straight and narrow, but he is no match for the brutish Žigo.  Meanwhile, Adam pursues his Ophelia, the younger but less tragic Jula, but again, his Uncle’s ruthless gangsterism is a hindrance.

Wisely, Gypsy does not try to correspond to Hamlet on a one-to-one basis.  In addition to many obvious plot diversions, the dynamics of Adam’s interpersonal relations differ in subtle but important ways.  Most importantly, unlike Claudius, Žigo’s villainous nature is unambiguously established.  Whether or not he killed Adam’s father, he is undeniably a bad guy.

Šulík and co-writer Marek Leščák are also clearly out to make a statement about the living standards endured by the nearly universally despised Roma of Eastern Europe.  Frankly, the conditions of Adam’s settlement are almost pristine compared to what some muckraking docs have recorded.  Regardless, the violent prejudice of the Slovakian coppers is hard to miss.

Looking like a decidedly young fourteen, Janko Mižigár gives a remarkably assured, quietly forceful performance as the barely teenaged protagonist.  He also has some nice youthful infatuation chemistry with Martinka Kotlárová’s Jula.  Yet, his strongest, most resonate scenes are played with Ivan Mirga, appearing as his spectral father.

Šulík has a sharp eye for detail, conveying a full picture of the Roma’s outcast existence.  While his chief antagonist is not exactly an overpoweringly malevolent presence, young Mižigár’s forceful work is quite noteworthy throughout.  Grim, gritty, and periodically brutal, Gypsy is not a pretty picture, notwithstanding some handsomely framed shots from cinematographer Martin Šec.  However, it holds a mirror up to nature quite effectively, while telling a relentlessly naturalistic coming of age story.  Recommended for those who enjoy tragic drama spiked with consciousness-raising realism, Gypsy opens this Wednesday (6/27) at New York’s Film Forum.

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