France: Czech film at Cannes dramatizes the lives of Roma
Czech Television reports that for the first time in 16 years, Czech cinematography has managed to fight its way onto the list of films that audiences attending the renowned festival at Cannes will be able to see. The social drama "The Way Out" (Cesta ven) by documentary filmmaker Petr Václav will be presented to an international audience there.
The film follows the life journeys of the invisible, overlooked victims of the current economic crisis, Romani people in the Czech Republic. Czech Television co-produced the picture.
Even though economists have been cautiously describing an economic revival and announcing falling unemployment rates for several months now, in the Moravian-Silesian Region almost 11 % of the population were without work at the start of the year. That represents the second-worst result in the country, just after the Ústí Region which, together with northern Moravia, has traditionally belonged among those regions where jobs are hardest to find.
Václav introduces his viewers to the coal-mining, housing estate-filled landscape of the Ostrava district in the very first scene of the film. During the following hour and a half we watch the story of young Žaneta, who is returning from maternity leave in the midst of the economic crisis in the very center of an impoverished region with the simple aim of finding work.
Like many other women, she is immediately told that "to have children right after school is not optimal for the start of a career." By "career", what is meant is working as a seamstress - Žaneta is Romani, her husband is unemployed, and (as the filmmaker says) she is "fighting to live a happy, ordinary life."
How can a woman from the Romani minority find work where there are not enough jobs for majority-society people? This is, moreover, an unfair fight, because the ring is not just defined by the propositions and rules of actually-existing capitalism, but also by bureaucracy, loan-sharking, majority-society prejudices, the mentality of other Romani people, and prostitution.
The image of the "gadje" (non-Roma) in the film is not encouraging; the white majority is represented by the fascisizing actors in the anti-Romani protests in the Šluknov district, by those instantly employed by recruitment agencies because of their color, by bureaucrats restrained by the law behind their glass partitions, and last but not least by the arrogant operators of residential hotels for the impoverished somewhere on the outskirts of Ostrava. That is where Žaneta and her young daughter end up after she leaves her husband.
The stereotypical perception of Romani families as large clans that stick together might prompt viewers to ask why the heroine doesn't go live with her relatives at that moment. The answer is the economic crisis.
According to the filmmakers, "Romani solidarity has ceased to exist - everyone is drowning in debt, at the mercy of collections agents and loan sharks." This transformation is one of the reasons the film was made in the first place.
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