English Title: Rosy Dreams
Original Title: Ružové sny
Country of Origin: Czechoslovakia
Studio: Koliba, Bratislava, Slovak Film
Director: Dušan Hanák
Producer(s): Ján Tomaškovič
Cinematographer: Dodo Šimončič
Editor: Alfréd Benčič
Runtime: 81 minutes
Genre: Comedy/Art Cinema
Volume: East European
Jakub, a dreamy mailman, spends his days playing pranks, resenting his father (with his mother’s tacit support), and admiring Jolana from the neighboring Romani hamlet. Faced with mistrust from Jakub’s and Jolana’s families and venom from others, Jakub steals money from the post office, imagining it is enough to support the two teenagers in the nearby city. Their life together brings forward their conflicting reveries. Jakub has conjured up the stereotypical fantasy of a free-spirited gypsy life with Jolana, whereas she has dreamed of a grounded life away from her troubled community. While Jakub goes from fantasy to prison to fantasy, Jolana gets a steady job and realizes that Jakub is no more her fantasy of a down-to-earth Gojo (non-Rom) than she is his ‘gypsy woman’. As Jolana, back in the Romani hamlet, celebrates her wedding to her persistent Romani suitor Vojto, and Jakub returns to his parents for more idle dreams, another wedding takes place between a Romani woman (the town hall administrator Irena) and a Slovak man (the town hall maintenance man Ondro).
Despite its whimsical and poetic style, Ružové sny/Rosy Dreams was the first Central European feature film that put the spotlight on the Romani (gypsy) community in a non-romanticized manner. It is one of many acclaimed films by Dušan Hanák – director of the much admired documentary Obrazy starého sveta/Pictures of the Old World (1972) – and a bold, daring narrative made during the intensely repressive period following the Soviet invasion of 1968.
The screenplay was Hanák’s joint project with the poet and novelist Dušan Dušek. They carried out research in Romani settlements during 1974–75 and fashioned their script accordingly, but the authorities delayed the shooting for a year, because Hanák and Dušek refused to rewrite it to encompass a socially optimistic ending that would have seen the two protagonists getting married. The script was eventually passed with two subsidiary characters, Irena and Ondro, added in a positive marital subplot, but the authorities still only permitted Rosy Dreams a limited theatrical release. It received the Czechoslovak Critics’ Award for 1976 and the Czech and Slovak Film Festival’s Audience Award in Bratislava in 1977. It further became the only Slovak film made in the repressive 1970s that was shown abroad, and has remained Hanák’s most popular film in his native country. Indeed, when it was released on VHS and later on DVD after the collapse of communism in 1989, it became a particular favourite with the Romani community in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
In a broader sense, Rosy Dreams was an important and prescient film. It dealt with a minority group whose plight, which was not discussed openly at the time, has since become one of the key divisive issues in several Central European societies. The narrative centres on the clash of communities and cultures between the Roma and middle-class Slovaks, and Hanák presents this dichotomous, ethnic opposition with an echo of the quasi-detached methodology reminiscent in particular of the Czechoslovak New Wave of the 1960s. However, beyond this stylistic appropriation, any tenable cinematic heritage is difficult to discern in the film. Overtly magical scenes, such as Jakub bringing a chicken he has just shot dead back to life, alternate with dream scenes that often represent characters’ states of mind, and subjective views of themselves as coloured by and filtered through numerous cultural determinants. For instance, an ostensibly incongruous western-style sequence depicting Jakub’s robbery of a train is in fact revealed to be a sublimation of his theft of money from the post office where he worked. The straightforward and denotative storyline is also filled with surreal asides and flourishes that do not feature any likely parallels in reality, and whose functionality rests in maintaining a playful whimsicality (reminiscent of the Czechoslovak New Wave, especially Jiří Menzel) where overt magic might undermine the cross-cultural story and erase its social relevance. For example, one particular, wayward scene is devoted to an overweight man who takes up residence in the crown of a fruit tree in his garden to punish his wife for not cooking enough food.
Rosy Dreams ultimately shows that the love between a Romani girl and a Slovak boy will not work due to the different cultural expectations each has of their budding relationship. The film climaxes with a wedding that morphs into a magical carnival scene reminiscent of Federico Fellini’s Otto e Mezzo/8½ (1963) (the carnivalesque has become a predictable narrative and thematic referent for a number of Slovak art films), in which several potential couples from the story, young and old, dance and prepare themselves for marriage. Among them is a Romani/Slovak couple whose subplot, added to appease the authorities by offering a token picture of cross-ethnic harmony, acts as an objective correlative to the main protagonist’s failed union. It may be an isolated instance when long-vanished communist censorship brought about a denouement of racial and inter-ethnic harmony long-advanced by western intellectuals, and preferred by audiences of the politically correct twenty-first century.
Author of this review: Martin Votruba