Queen of the Gypsies (1976)


Queen of the Gypsies Storyline

This colourful, music-filled and sensual melodrama based on early stories by Maxim Gorky tells the fatal love story between the beautiful and rebellious girl Rada and the handsome horse thief Zobar. The story is set in early 20th century Bessarabia, now part of Moldova.—Markku Kuoppamäki

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Queen of the Gypsies Movie Reviews

Gypsy music and 70’s camp- melodrama with cult status

These were the seventies: while some European film-makers invaded the big screen with exploitation flicks, controversial satires and hammer horror soaked in a nightmarish conglomerate of blood and sexual fluids, while others- on both sides of the Iron Curtain- intelligently turned historical, literary or mythical subjects into sophisticated creations, Loteanu followed his style; Communism-supervised and censored 70’s camp, so dated that it becomes anachronistically adorable.

Needles to say, this film, and it’s follower ” A hunting drama” (1978) are perfect examples. The rest of Loteanu’s creations faded in the background, for he will be remembered by most moviegoers for these two pseudo costume/ period dramas combining subjects placed around 1900 with glamorous, showy and melodramatic seventies style.

In my native Romania, this film( also due to limited exposure to other directors, creations, because strict censorship allowed few films to be shown) this film had such a cult status, especially before 1989, that the soundtrack of this film was virtually in everyone’s memory to such an extent that even people who didn’t see the film knew it by heart, the songs were( quite liberally and inaccurately) translated into Romainian and were heard at least once at any party that was supposed to be truly entertaining. And even after 1989, when censorship was a over and tons of new channels and blockbusters invaded the big and the TV screen, it is still aired at least once a year on at least one TV channel.

The reason is simple- the film enjoys such a cult status because everything about it is unreal and the film doesn’t even conceal it. Like the classic Hollywood musicals, infested with optimism and family friendly, lighthearted, almost Bubblegum Pop-style tunes, it must have been a colorful, campy, playful escape from an increasingly bleak everyday existence, not strictly in a restrained but even the “free” world. Like famous Romanian columnist Cristian Tudor Popescu said while analyzing this film( by the way, his rendition famous cinematic artworks followed by a cult classic are an interesting alternative to Mr. Tocilescu’s more famous broadcast called “Schoking films”) that this film is from the beginning striking a pact with the viewer. The Gypsy life is not sold as authentic but simply as pleasant and both he and his viewers know this-as long as it’s entertaining. But, in the film’s defense, Mr.CTP adds that the viewer who is not impressed by the breathtaking closeups emphasizing Svetlana Toma’s eyes, the contrast between her overlong dark hair and pale face and her grand gestures might be a true film critic but not a true film lover( and this is something very rare to hear from one of today’s most untouchable, strict and moralist journalists). In this sense, he is right. A single shot of Svetlana Toma singing in the streets is more fascinating than the entire film, even if the rest of the film were worthless, these very seconds are the work of genius that will make movie history. The scene is shot just brilliantly: the camera lingers on her face for a while before she starts to sing, these few moments are breathtaking and build up a huge tension, which continuously rises while she starts to sing a tune with one of the most haunting rhythmic structures in music history. It resembles the seconds before Liza Minelli starts to sing that famous “Money” -song from Cabaret, the technique is similar, a few seconds delay on the character’s faces -highly expressive, even tense, then the breathtaking moment the music sets in, making it all even more captivating. And this so famous tune almost reminds me of Bryan Ferry’s song “The price of love”, because tough the music is Gyspsy, it has a certain Glam rock flavor- the elaborate use of beat and rhythm,creating one of the most compelling soundtracks ever , combined with a theatrical, Glam inspired gesture( everything almost toying with time and pacing in a continuous crescendo).

Svetalana Toma’s actual performance is a combination between Claudia Cardinale’s part from ” The Leopard”, strikingly resembling her physically, up to the clothes and the way she sensually wets her lips and hair and the dated image of the good-hearted gamine by Paulette Goddard in ” Modern Times”, homeless but anarchistic and ( anti-) socially active, even anticipating a bit Kate Bush’s video for “Wuthering Heights” where the singer adopts a pseudo Gypsy look complete with red dress, breathtaking dancing, flowing dark hair and a red flower to adorn it. However the part of Rada is quite faked and idealized- i don’t think that she had so much liberty to stay single so long in a society where marriages are arranged from early ages.

Also, I think that Gatlif or Kusturica( even if they also included a bit of idealization) render Gypsy tradition far more accurate than Loteanu. This is why i never saw this film completely up to very recently, thinking that it was nothing more than a mixture of simple people mocking the upper classes and some unilateral plain landscapes just tiring and boring my eyesight. But Loteanu seems to hesitate between some moments of genius( against all camp and censorship) and a very formal, artificial, overly sanctified, dogmatic depiction of nature, tradition and human migration-making all look tastelessly sanctified and mystical( very odd in an atheist film-making). Besides, all the characters, especially the male ones, are more hippies than gypsies, the men being easily interchangeable between gypsy whereabouts in one second and rather sleazy, “groovy”, dated 70’s macho( in fact, these macho, their influence in popular culture advocated outlandish clothing, casual fornication, nomadic lifestyle, anti-consumerist and anti-establishment stances). Even the ending is far-fetched and melodramatic- here the “tragedy” is posed, failing to impress or to cause sadness, making it equally campy as a cheesy happy end.

Worth watching as a flagship of seventies nostalgia, seasoned with few moments, scenes ( but worth as much as hours of cinematic masterpieces) of genius.

Love, Pride, and Freedom

Based on a short story “Makar Chudra”(1892), the first published literary work by the famous Russian writer Maxim Gorky, the colorful, filled with the songs, music, dances, horses, and beautiful scenery, the ultimate melodrama “Tabor Ukhodit v Nebo” tells the story of the fatal love between proud rebellious Gypsy girl Radda and the young horse thief Loiko Zobar. There were no horse that Loiko could not steal and no girl who could resist him…until he saw Radda. Raddas’s rare beauty and strong will had attracted to her rich and noble Sialdi who was ready to give up everything to be with her but she only laughed… Radda and Loiko were meant for each other but more than love each of them valued their freedom and pride. What started as a musical dramedy set in the Gypsy camp in the beginning of the 1900s somewhere in Bessarabaia (Now Moldova) which had belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire ended up in the final that is worth of the best Shakespeare’s tragedies. I saw this movie for the first time many years ago but some of its images have been imprinted in my memory since: Radda stops the wild horses with just the look in her eyes; topless Radda is taking off her long colorful skirts, one after another and there are dozens she is wearing and this is such a sensual scene which was shot for the Russian movie back in 1975; the final – two horses, black and white without their riders move slowly alongside and disappear in the horizon…

Very entertaining, beautiful and poetic film is available on DVD from RUSCICO.com. Highly recommended


The gypsy camp vanishes into the heavens

This movie is a sweet melodrama about the life and the customs of gypsies in the past century. One of the main aspects that one may consider before watching this movie is the soundtrack, which contains several gypsy songs (original, with Romany words) flavored with some masterpieces of the well known Moldavian soundtrack composer Eugen Doga.

Unlike other movies, this film marches deep into the past revealing a world completely unknown to most of the present day individuals, an almost ancient time when gypsies were just a tribe of ill-behaved, rebellious people wandering from one place to another. Everything is covered with a haze of magic and archaic. It was a time when killing and getting killed for a fistful of gold or a horse were the order of the day, when people believed in sorcery and magic. It was a time when the traditions perpetuated orally, when “a capella” singing (rarely aided by a background violin or guitar) rather than big-band Bregovic-like events was the way to express one’s grief or happiness. Listen to “I am dying mother” or “Phabaj” to understand what I mean!

Essentially the script tells an uncommon and passionately love story between a horse thief, Zobar, and a young gypsy witch, Rada. The script is a little bit unpolished making the impression of a “pink novel”, but the music and the images (not to mention the beauty & talent of Svetlana Toma) balance quite well the not so very thick plot.

9/10 – for picturing so well a world lost to the ravages of time.