Toronto International Film Festival

TORONTO -- A good-natured picaresque for moviegoers with a taste for gypsy cliches, "Roming" (like some of the characters it portrays) works only hard enough to get by. Lightweight but basically likeable, it has modest potential on the specialty circuit and will likely appeal most to audiences already primed by previous, more distinctive and authentic treatments of Romany culture.

Though the pic milks gypsy stereotypes for all they're worth, its three protagonists seem devised to present a socially responsible spectrum: young Jura, a thoroughly assimilated university student; father Roman, who for the sake of fitting in with his neighbors pretends to be more of a deadbeat than he is; and Stano, a drifter who's not as skilled at on-the-hoof living as he likes to believe. The three set out to visit Slovakia, ostensibly because Roman wants to set up a marriage between Jura and an old friend's daughter, who has just turned eighteen.

Along the way, Roman works on the fable he hopes will one day become a Roma national epic to rival legends of King Arthur -- the story of Somali, a "gypsy king" so hapless he can't dance or steal, who has sunk so low he actually works for a living. When his family realizes he's actually buying things for them instead of stealing, they cast Somali out in shame.

The story-within-a-story eventually veers into less than satisfying allegory, but its beginning has a screwy comic appeal -- if, that is, you don't mind laughing along with stereotypes that have caused the Roma people to be persecuted for generations.

Presumably, we're not supposed to take offense at one gypsy's made-up yarn about his own people. But the "real" narrative here indulges similar assumptions, relying on Stano's misadventures for most of its laughs. (Stano isn't Roma by birth, but he's clearly accepted by these characters as one of their own.) For every scene in which prejudices are confronted -- a bit of harassment by white policemen, for instance, foiled entertainingly by Jura -- there are three others playing into them, like a truly distasteful scene in which a mother won't present her ID at her child's baptism for fear of losing welfare benefits.

Cultural considerations aside, the film starts to drag near the end, with a half-hearted romantic subplot unsuccessfully trying to gin up our interest in Jura (the good looking but bland non-actor Vitezslav Holub). The filmmakers seem reluctant to admit that the older folks here -- including Jean Constantin, as Roman's imaginary hero -- are their main asset in convincing us, momentarily or otherwise, that "Roming" isn't as insulting as it sounds on paper.

Infilm / Mediapro Pictures
Director: Jiri Vejdelek
Writer: Marek Epstein
Producers: Rudolf Biermann, Tomas Hoffman, Andrei Boncea
Director of photography: Jakub Simunek
Production designer: Henrich Boraros
Music: Vojtech Lavicka
Co-producers: Jaroslav Kucera, Anna Kovacova, Misu Predescu
Costume designer: Zuzana Krejzkova, Andrea Kralova
Editor: Jan Danhel
Stano: Bolek Polivka
Roman: Marian Labuda
Jura: Vitezslav Holub
Somali: Jean Constantin
Bebetka: Corina Moise
Postman: Vladimir Javorsky
Running time -- 112 minutes
No MPAA rating