Gypsy: Toronto Review

Deliberately paced Slovak drama simultaneously champions Romani protagonists and indulges in outsiders' preconceptions about their lives.

Director Martin Šulík's drama is social realism with a touch of Hamlet, set in impoverished Romani villages in rural Slovakia.

Set in impoverished Romani villages in rural Slovakia, Martin Šulík's Gypsy is social realism with a touch of Hamlet, seen through the eyes of a 14 year-old who's considerably less enigmatic than the Dane. Theatrical prospects are mild, with the pic's colorful setting and solid craftsmanship countered by underwhelming dynamics.

Young Adam (Ján Mižigár) has hardly buried his father before his mother weds uncle Žigo (Miroslav Gulyas), a pony-tailed walrus in a track suit whose ability to provide for the family rests on his traffic in stolen merch. Though Adam prefers boxing at the gym and hanging out with his girlfriend, he finds himself participating in petty crimes -- due largely to pressure from his stepdad, who sees this hustling as an entrepreneurial virtue: Žigo's contempt for his less ambitious neighbors nearly matches the racism of gypsy-hating whites in the region.

Šulík isn't exactly out to dispel stereotypes about the Roma people here: From chaotic street life and crowded dance parties to putting toddlers to work as beggars, the signifying clichés are all here. But the movie fleshes them out, lingering in Adam's orbit persistently enough to normalize his surroundings, even if Mižigár's eyes, however intelligent, never reveal emotional depths that might draw us more deeply into his world. The film's at its most engaging when Adam interacts with more colorful characters, like the priest (Attila Mokos) who (shades of a '30s Hollywood melodrama) has as much insight into the rough facts of his flock's daily lives as into the Heavenly realm.

The film holds to its less-than-urgent vibe even when the script gets around to dramatic developments -- girls sold off to wealthy husbands, high-stakes felonies, truly ugly police harassment. Oh: and the continued presence of the ghost of Adam's father, whose first visits are gently paternal but who eventually dishes disturbing gossip. Šulík and co-writer Marek Lescak may not want to follow some of their subplots to their expected conclusions, but at least that ghost does eventually get the satisfaction he's looking for.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival
Production companies: IN Film Praha
Cast: Ján Mižigár, Martin Hangurbadžo, Martina Kotlárová, Attila Mokos
Director: Martin Šulík
Screenwriters: Marek Lescak, Martin Šulík
Producer: Rudolf Biermann
Director of photography: Martin Sec
Production designer: František Lipták
Music: Vladimir Godar
Editor: Jirí Brožek.
No rating, 102 minutes.

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