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Jun. 20th, 2006 @ 01:29 am Gypsies Are Found Near Heaven
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"Табор уходит в небо."

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First of all, the Russian Cinema Council (RUSCICO) DVD release title is not a true translation of the Russian, which is more like "The Gypsy Camp Leaves in the Sky", "The Gypsy Camp Vanishes Into the Blue", "The Gypsy Camp Vanishes Off the Face of the Earth" or "The Gypsy Camp Ascends to Heaven", with a double-meaning for "Heaven" intended. Due to the revival of this film at two major international Gypsy Film Festivals earlier this year. in London and in Melbourne. and the release of the international RUSCICO DVD edition in an all-region format (that will work on DVD players all over the world), I will recommend this film but first subject it to some serious caveats. The film shows the Xeladytka Russka dance style in what is still, thirty years after its original release, perhaps the most lavish film ever produced about Gypsies. From here on I will refer "Gypsies" to the fictional characters in the film and "Romanies" to the cast of actors and dancers in the film.

Before the film's title appears on the screen, before there is any dialog, the film opens with one of the most stunning and beautiful image sequences I have ever seen in a film. It shows a caravan train struggling to cross the Carpathian Mountains. The splendidly beautiful Carpathians, land of my ancestry. The accompanying soundtrack is the folksong "Dives i Rhat" (Day and Night). The soundtrack for the entire film is made up of Romani folksongs, including "Loli Phabay", "Nane Tsokha", "Malyarkitsa"...the songs many of us know by heart. When the film was first released in the USSR, Romanies would pack the theatres and sing along to the soundtrack.

The DVD does have the option of English subtitles or English dubbed dialog. I recommend the subtitles, especially if you can understand any of the Russian. The Russian script is deeper. The story is based on "Makar Chudra" written by Maxim Gorky in 1892. Herein lies the main caveat of the film. It is a nineteenth century tale about Gypsies, written by a Russian, and depicting all the popular stereotypes associated with Gypsies of that time. Stereotypes that we are still trying to shake off more than a century later. It goes like this:

The central character is Luiko (Loyko) a horse thief who falls in love with Rada, a beautiful Gypsy sorceress. She discovers him dying amongst the bushes after he was shot while stealing horses. She extends her arm, fingers stretched out, and magically pulls him up from death. She proceeds to cure him by rubbing moon dust on his wound while chanting a spell. He informs her that this really isn't necessary because he drank moon dew as a child, so bullets do not affect him. She replies sarcastically "I can see that."

What the fuck can I say? You are watching a nineteenth century melodrama. If the script had not been based on a story by Maxim Gorky it would have not been made into a Soviet-Era film. The Moldavian Film Studios in fact rejected the script, so the director/screenwriter Emil Lotjanu took it to the MosFilm Studios (Moscow) who accepted it and produced the film. At the time it was made, it was the largest film production ever to employ a Romani cast, and the largest Romani cast ever assembled in a film. But the three central Gypsies in the film are actually Moldavian actors. This cross-casting still goes on today. Tony Gatlif's new film "Transylvania" stars Asia Argento, an Italian actress who plays the main Gypsy character. Oh well...

So why watch this film? It is a lavish spectacle with beautiful Romani folk music (rearranged for the film, but you can still sing along). If you are not able to visit the Moscow Romani Theatre this is your chance to see Russka Xeladytka dancing in traditional dress. Well...traditional dress up to a point that Romanies will instantly recognize. It's a movie. The dance sequences are stunning. The vocal dubbing in the songs is a bit primitive, but so is the dubbed sound in all Soviet films of that era. The film is essentially a musical romance. If you look at it as being about as realistic as Rogers and Hammerstein's "Carousel" you will be on the right track. It's a bit more fanciful than Aleichem & Stein's "Fiddler on the Roof".

The Romanies in the film are beautiful. The Dance is beautiful. The cinematography is beautiful. The music is beautiful. Considering the script they were given to work with and the style of production, the actors give flawless performances. The script itself has a good dramatic structure. In other words, if you can see past the caveats this is one extraordinary film. We now just need a new Romani film depicting the late nineteenth / early twentieth century era with a more modern and realistic story line and acting. Arm yourself with a copy of Alaina Lemon's excellent book "Between Two Fires: Gypsy Performance and Romani Memory From Pushkin to Post-Socialism" and go take a peek at the movie.

Oh, the DVD, it's cataloged as "Gypsies Go to Heaven".

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About this Entry
Xeladytka Russka Dancers
luludi:
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From:misspotsitt
Date:June 20th, 2006 09:52 am (UTC)
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That looks like an interesting (from the point of cinematography and music that is) film. I recently bought The New World on DVD just for the cinematography. It's a plodding film, but beautiful to watch.
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From:amgirl
Date:June 20th, 2006 12:06 pm (UTC)
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it IS a splendid movie indeed: beautiful actors, wonderful dances and love
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From:misspotsitt
Date:June 20th, 2006 12:36 pm (UTC)
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Unfortunately I can't find it on the UK amazon site. I'll see if I can find some more specialist world film places to look though.
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From:amgirl
Date:June 20th, 2006 12:42 pm (UTC)
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sorry about it...I guess, we, Russians, were lucky to see original even it was a while ago. But I still remember both main charactor played by Svetlana Toma (black hair, bright blue eyes) and music, and dances...
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From:christianet
Date:June 20th, 2006 03:35 pm (UTC)
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Thank you for sharing this! I never knew this film existed.
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From:luludi
Date:June 21st, 2006 07:53 pm (UTC)
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Yes, there are many very fine films that were made in Eastern Europe and the USSR, which unfortunately were never widely seen in the West. This was no fault to the artists themselves. Unfortunate too, that every project had to first be approved by a Board of Political Bureaucrats before it could be produced.
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From:dozen_son
Date:June 20th, 2006 03:35 pm (UTC)
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Luludi, thanks for the review! Apropos, stereotypes. I got my hands on We Borrow the Earth, which was written in 2000 by a (self-proclaimed?) British-born Romany Chovihano. I must say that it does a good job of feeding the reader with the same stereotypes. Maybe, I'm just nit-picking...
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From:dozen_son
Date:June 20th, 2006 03:49 pm (UTC)
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Forgot to ask you regarding the word 'Xeladytka'. Is it in Moldavian and what does it mean? It's definitely not Russian, and my poor knowledge of Ukrainian doesn't help me either.
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From:luludi
Date:June 20th, 2006 05:28 pm (UTC)
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Xeladytka is the Romani dialect word for the Russka Roma, a nation of Roma who settled in northern Russia. So by saying "Xeladytka Russka" I'm saying the same thing in two languages.

Xeladytka also refers to the dialect of Romani itself. This is the dialect of Romani commonly heard on the Moscow Romani Theatre stage and in the Russian Romani folk songs. In productions that are in Russian, Xeladytka is used to represent the Romani language onstage. It is the dialect of Romani that was standardized in the 1920's and '30's in the USSR but is now no longer used as an international standard form of Romani.

There are differing theories as to the origin of the word and how it became applied to this nation of Roma, but that is a more involved discussion. :-)
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From:dozen_son
Date:June 20th, 2006 06:12 pm (UTC)
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Involved discussion... mmmm.. tempting. Thanks for the explanation, I googled Moscow Romani Theatre and there's a wealth of information I have to dig through. Maybe I'll compile a post later on, I found pictures, interviews, mp3!
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From:prosewitch
Date:June 20th, 2006 07:44 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for posting the review! I'm bookmarking it so I can return to it with a critical perspective once I take my Roma culture class as part of my folklore program. :)