Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Notes on Les Princes

Tense, terse, heart wrenching, despair, injustice, racism, stereotyping, discrimination,ignorant journalists.

All these words, all these feelings, were crossing my mind and my heart as I was re-watching Tony Gatlif’s 1983 film “Les Princes”. I had forgotten how good it was, although not very popular, at least not in Britain.

A song to Romany life in France, it follows Nara (a tough and tense Gérard Darmon), his daughter Zorka (a very impressive performance by Céline Militon), his mother (Muse Dalbray) and his estranged wife Miralda (Concha Tavora) as they are evicted from their apartment by a very aggressive and openly racist police squad, armed with machine guns just to deal with this family of gypsies.

After their failed attempt of settling down and integrate within the gadje, after being casually dismissed from his job in a building site, Nara takes his family onto the road to an uncertain future. In a semi documentary style, the camera follow their wandering to the hypothetical salvation of their lawyers and a German journalist – who was only interested in delivering to her readership a reinforcement of their stereotypes and prejudices rather than a reportage of the actual reality of the life of an actual Gypsy family, after being shoved into so-called migrant campsites, no more than rubbish dumps, we finally see them joining an itinerant band of gypsies, any attempt to integrate with the gadje having been abandoned.

Les Princes was an exposé of the treatment of gypsies in France, the contradictions within Romany life, between them and the French society around them, forcing them to casual stealing to survive (something they intensely dislike), the constant discrimination, violence and stereotyping they are subjected to. Yet, the film is also a song to their dignity, their ancestral songs, their rites, their way of life, their desire to hold a normal life (Zorka gets a beautiful kitten from Nara, she takes the animal with her in their wanderings), their desire to learn (Zorka’s grandmother learns to write and read from the little girl).

Les Princes has the roughness of a road documentary, I perceived very little distance between myself and the story being told. I laughed, cried, sat in expectation, lifted my fists in anger, shouted, and ultimately travelled with them to their uncertain future.

There is no sentimentality at all, just the clinical yet warm gaze of the lens.

Director/writer: Tony Gatlif
Cast: Gérard Darmon, Muse Dalbray, Céline Militon
France, 1983

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