Friday, April 4, 2014

Film Atlas (Moldova): Queen of the Gypsies

Country: Moldova
Title: Queen of the Gypsies / Табор уходит в небо (1976)
Queen of the Gypsies, which is more evocatively translated as Gypsies Are Found Near Heaven, is essentially a classical star-crossed romance with a freestyle Moldovan flavor. Zobar, a horse thief perpetually on the run, and Rada, a gypsy heartbreaker, are a would-be couple whose pride and independence undermines their desire for love. Zobar is clever and capable. He steals (but anything less than a horse is beneath his dignity) and kills liberally, but he also breaks up fights and takes care of his family. He prefers to travel alone and treats his caravan as a travelling rest stop. He's a dying breed, cheated by the landowning horse dealers and hounded by the Russian army, but confident in his survival prowess even as the number of his compatriots dwindles. Rada, daughter of a destitute soldier, belongs to another clan and takes a great deal of joy in exercising her sway over men before dashing the hopes of even her most rich and powerful suitors. She is less a femme fatale than a free-spirit infatuated with the open road. Zobar first meets her while dying from a bullet wound in a particularly verdant grove. She heals him and promptly disappears (a house specialty), leaving Zobar smitten. He determines to possess her, unable to appreciate that for Rada, like himself, freedom is oxygen, food and water all in one.

Love at first sight.
Queen of the Gypsies has a certain raw primal quality. It's not a particularly sophisticated or probing psychological study of its doomed lovers, but it relishes the intensity of their emotions with riveting abandon. It works because Moldovan director Emil Loteanu is absolutely on the right wavelength for his subject matter: his imagery is pure rapture sans symbolism or slavish realism. He lingers, perhaps unfashionably, on beauty: a woman, a river, a horse, a sunset. He shares the Romani love for color and countryside to the point where leaves and berries seem to grow over the lens, framing and even consuming the leads. One can almost feel Loteanu struggling to resolve the fundamental conflict of interest between clothing and nudity, fabric and skin as his protagonists, stripping on the bank of a muddy river, prepare to make love for the first time. It’s genuinely sexy, in a way that popular films have largely forgotten and art films have largely rejected. Musical numbers, vibrant though unpolished, are amply strewn throughout the runtime, but since most are under a minute they are welcome interludes; at once catchy and ephemeral.  I know it all sounds indulgent, and if it is, at least it isn't at the audience’s expense; the pacing is so tight and the story so focused. Though a tragedy, this is also a film to get caught up in, that makes you want to go outside, to travel, to sing and flirt and fall in love.

Major Directors:
Emil Loteanu

Culture clash.

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