Monday, 16 July 2007


Sometimes the journey is more interesting than the destination, but this is not one of those times. It’s also possibly the shortest journey that I’ll ever write about, because all I did was walk down to the end of the next block to see the new(ish) Czech film ROMing.

ROMing stars Marian Labuda and Viteslav Holub as a Romany father and son. The third main character is played by Bolek Polivka and is the centre of most of the comic moments in the film.

The film jumps outright into myths and stereotypes of Romanies in the Czech lands and begins with the story of the sad king of the Gypsies, Somali. Somali is sad because he’s had to do what no gypsy king ever before had to resort to, an honest day’s work. Somali manages to conceal his horrible secret by leaving his caravan each morning in a flashy white suit, dapper hat and with kilograms of gold around his neck. His chauffeur driven Mercedes leaves the gypsy settlement and carries him through more clichés of crowds of street urchins and a pair of Rom kids lifting manhole covers onto their cart to be sold for scrap.

The Merc pulls up at a storefront in a run-down part of town. Somali enters by the front door in all his finery, but leaves by the back door in workman’s clothes and jumps on a bicycle to make it to the factory in time to clock on for his shift.

But as the narrator points out, you can fool people for a while, but no lie lasts forever. When Somali is spied by some gypsy kids up to more stereotypical mischief, they report back to the gypsy settlement with his factory timecard as proof. Somali’s wife has to see for herself but having grown so fat and not having left the caravan for so long, an extra wide door has to be cut with a hand saw. Somali is confronted, exposed and banished from the gypsy settlement. The canary that represents the spirit of the gypsies and sat constantly on his head (under his hat) deserts him at this moment and the rest of the film is spent with Somali on a long journey with an empty cage and facing all manner of demons to try to win back the feathered embodiment of the Romany spirit.

It all sounds a bit farfetched doesn’t it? That’s what I thought too, until at this point it became clear that Somali is the main character of a story being written by Marian Labuda’s Roman. Roman explains to his son Juro that all the great nations have their fables and epics; the Germans have the Ring of the Nibelung, the English have the Tales of King Arthur and even Finland has the Kalevala. Only the Roma are without an epic and the story of Sad Gypsy King Somali, who knows neither how to steal or dance, is his solution.

Juro is home from University studies in Prague for the weekend and his father wants to take him on a trip to meet a gypsy girl named Anetka. Juro already has a girlfriend (whose short role consists mostly of presenting her ample bosom to the camera) and reluctantly agrees to go along to appease his father. They’re joined at this point by drunken, swearing, ghostly-grey but charismatic Stano (a better role for Bolek Polivka is difficult to imagine and if you want to know how to really swear in Czech, he is the perfect tutor). In Stano’s truck the three adventurers set off on their trip to Anetka’s home village, wringing laughs from a few more old stereotypes on the way.

Juro sets up a tent but the others insist on sleeping under the stars, until there’s a torrential downpour. Stano steals a chicken for breakfast but Juro can’t bring himself to slit its neck, tough guy Stano has a bit of trouble with it too. Stano insists on stealing a fish for dinner, even though Juro has the money to buy one. Of course they get caught and loaded up with a couple of barrels of buckshot.

There are a lot of jokes like that, but the film also touches on some real issues faced by the Roma and even suggests some possible solutions, like when the truck picks up a gypsy band and they get stopped by the police and hauled over the coals about all sorts of ridiculous details like whether the scissors in their auto first aid kit are stainless steel or not. University-educated Juro manages to get them out of this, maintaining dignity and earning a bit of respect from Stano on the way.

Now I’m not going to give away much more than that. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone nor do I want to give anyone an excuse not to go and see the film for themselves. I thought it was great and I’d like to go and see it again. I might even have a look around and see if the soundtrack is for sale. If it includes some of Stano’s P-word monologues, I’ll be buying it for sure. My swearing could do with some polishing up and hockey season is just around the corner after all…

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