‘I love this film. It is a beautiful visual experience and an important story about a Roma poet. A highly recommended personal story spoken in Romani.’
Papusza is a 2013 feature film from Central and Eastern Europe (Poland), directed by Joanna Kos-Krauze and Krzysztof Krauze. The biopic is based on the life of Bronisława Wajs, a Roma–Polish poet, whose nickname was Papusza (which means ‘doll’ in English). Papusza was a groundbreaking female Roma artist, the first of her kind, and her complex and unevenly emancipating story is embedded in the history of the Polish Roma community within the first half of the twentieth century.
Thanks to the black-and-white cinematography, the film creates the illusion of archive-like realistic material while remaining picturesque. Furthermore, the costumes and milieu of the film faithfully mirror the Polish–Roma culture at that time, as does the language, which is original Romani with Polish dialect.
The storyline of Papusza is dissolved by non-linear storytelling. Jumping back and forth in time, the viewer puts together the story of the Polish–Roma traveller community piece by piece, from the epoch of wandering in kumpania (bigger group or extended family) through the period of Nazi genocide, and finally to the era of forced settlement of the community during communism. History serves as a frame to introduce Papusza, who was eager to learn to read and write as a child, later becoming a literary figure and poet with the help of a gadjo (non-Roma) literary man, Jerzy Ficowsky.
As a paradigm-shifting woman with unconventional ambitions, the confrontation with her traditional community would last throughout her lifetime. This reached its peak when Papusza began to release her poetry in literary magazines, finally publishing her book in 1956: Songs of Papusza, a bilingual collection translated and edited by Jerzy Ficowsky. Accusing her of revealing Roma secrets, the Roma leaders banished Papusza from the community, ultimately leaving her alone. By putting this conflict on stage, the whole story reflects not only women’s role in a traditional community, but also the traumatic transition from an oral to written culture. Later, in the 1960s, she was resurrected as a poet and a performer, yet this period is missing from the film.
The filmmakers undoubtedly have a nuanced understanding of Romani culture and language. ‘Papusza is opulently filmed and carefully reconstructs an overlooked historical community, but it curiously lacks the catharsis of its subject’s work. The world wobbles and laughs, but it is the poet’s will that makes sense of it all, and while Papusza is a film that impresses in most senses, especially in its joyous representation of the musical travelling community, at times this poet’s voice is lost among the noise’ (Benjamin Poole, The Movie Waffler). According to another critic, Papusza illustrates the ‘universal plight of women whose intelligence sets them at odds with their traditional communities’ (Julia Zelman, East European Film Bulletin). Zelman finishes her critique by arguing that, ‘The panorama of folk and natural textures makes the film melancholic rather than bleak, a fitting celebration of a sad poet and her tale of survival.’ Papusza won the special prize of the jury at the Istanbul International Film Festival (2014) and the Eagle Award at the Polish Film Awards (2014), among others.
27 reviews (IMDb): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2719094/externalreviews?ref_=tt_ov_rt
Makarska, Renata: ‘Die Ambivalenz der Fremdheit. Über den Umgang mit “alten” und “neuen” Minderheiten in Polen nach 1989’, in Drews-Sylla, Gesine and Makarska, Renata: Neue alte Rassismen? Differenz und Exklusion in Europa nach 1989, Bielefeld: transcript, 2015, pp. 253–278