Films: Papusza

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  • Wednesday, November 13, 4:15 PM
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Poland, 2013, 131 Minute Running Time
Genre/Subjects: Biographical, Drama, Literary, Womens Issues
Programs: Contemporary World Cinema, Women + Film
Language: Romani, Polish English Subtitles

DIRECTOR: Joanna Kos, Krzysztof Krauze
Producer: Lambros Ziotas
Editor: Krzysztof Szpetmanski
Screenwriter: Joanna Kos, Krzysztof Krauze
Cinematographer: Krzysztof Ptak
Principal Cast: Jowita Budnik, Antoni Pawlicki, Artur Steranko, Andrzej Walden, Zbigniew Walerys

Husband-wife writer-director duo Krzysztof Krauze and Joanna-Kos Krauze spent a year filming this black-and-white biopic about the underappreciated Roma poet Bronislawa Wajs, known as “Papusza” (“Doll” in Romani). The lush period vignettes re-create the nomadic Roma life of the early 20th century flawlessly, crisscrossing five decades of Papusza’s life. We are vaguely aware of historical events going on—two world wars and forced Communist settlement—but the focus is the insular Roma culture.

From birth, Pupusza was deemed different, predicted to bring honor or shame upon her people, and in a way she did both. As a child in a fiercely patriarchal (and highly illiterate) society, she learns to read on the sly and is harshly punished, but keeps reading anyway. By 1949, we see her unhappily married to a domineering musician. Enter fugitive poet Jerzy Ficowski, who travels with the Roma, learning their language and lifestyle, for two years. Part of their secret world, he hears the songs Papusza sings around the campfire and encourages her to write them down.

When Ficowski publishes her poems and a book, Polish Gypsies, revealing the Roma’s moral code and beliefs, Papusza’s clan is outraged. Associating with the outside world of the gadjo is considered unclean, and the clan decides to excommunicate Papusza. We see her living in poverty despite her literary fame. Pupusza pays homage to the lost era of the Polish Roma community, using the life of a famous poet as a backdrop, and rewards us with a sumptuous, visually rich ensemble drama that is clearly a labor of love.

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