Dom za vešanje (Home for Hanging) (1988)
November 9, 2022 8:29 AM - Subscribe

Perhan is a Romani teenager with telekinetic powers. His passage from childhood to adulthood starts in a little village in Yugoslavia but derails into a criminal underworld of quick-cash petty crime that threatens to destroy him and those he loves.

Starring Davor Dujmović, Borivoje Todorović, Ljubica Adzovic, Husnija Hasimovic, Sinolichka Trpkova, Zabit Memedov, Elvira Sali, Suada Karisik.

Directed by Emir Kusturica. Written by Emir Kusturica, Gordan Mihić. Original music by Goran Bregović.

At the 1989 Cannes Film Festival, Emir Kusturica won the Best Director Award and the film was also nominated for a Palme d'Or (Golden Palm). Its magical realism and cinematography were highly praised in international circles at the time.

The music video for Bregović's song "Ederlezi" (made from clips from the film) gives a capsule example of the film's visual style.

Currently available for digital rental in the US via multiple outlets, although you would have to look for it by the other English title. JustWatch listing.

Today, I'm going to post six of movies that are problematic and/or made by/starring problematic people, but also either: have merit/are acclaimed; won some awards; are very popular; have a certain amount of cultural cachet. I'll be tagging these #problematicmovies.

This film makes the #problematicmovies list for two reasons.

First, this is because the title by which it was released in the US contains a term for Romani people that has since been recognized as a slur. To avoid this, the film's original Serbo-Croatian title (which translates to Home for Hanging) is used here instead. It should be noted that within the film, the term is also used.
Second, the film portrays its Romani characters as low-rent organized criminals, who are sometimes involved in the human trafficking of their own children. This has been hurtful to the Romani because the relative prominence of this film--even as Romani remain underrepresented on film--encourages toxic stereotypes.

For more context on the film, check out Laura Moldovan's essay from the Romani Voices series as well as Natalija Stepanović's "From Film-Making to Policy-Making: Roma in the former Yugoslavia."
posted by DirtyOldTown (1 comment total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
From an artistic standpoint, this is a fantastically well-made film. It's like an Eastern European Godfather veering into tragicomedy, taking place in shacks and campers instead of NY mansions. Perhan is a truly magnetic (no pun intended) character portrayed with real depth and pathos by the late Davor Dujmović. Goran Bregović's music is iconic, the cinematography is amazing, and the use of non-actors in many key roles adds to the whole vibe. Kusturica is a powerfully talented director who layers in imagery and symbolism for days. He loves his characters enormously and gives them a fascinating journey. This is also frequently pretty funny.

HOWEVER... while the film gives us some very realistic views of a kind of extremely impoverished marginal life that (mostly, with caveats) really does exist--from the shacks to the grifting to the people scraping by on odd side hustles--it does so by making basically everyone in the film Romani. Really, though, this is a kind of edges of society thing you might see among Hungarian and Romanian (not the same as Romani! not the same!) villages, small town Slovenians, rural Croats, etc. Hell, even if you want to just limit the comparison to peripatetic families of grifters, that's also a thing in Ireland, and in the American South. But here? Here it's the g-word stereotype, inflated and exaggerated.

Setting up the Romani as mostly criminals is made worse by lifting the mafia story beats and applying them to a group already burdened with horrible stereotypes. Are there Romani grifters? Sure. Some of the travelers really do that. But there are also plenty of Romani shopkeepers, Romani students, Romani people working in restaurants, Romani people doing pretty much everything. I mean, they're just people. Thing is, in the scattered instances of Romani being depicted on film, they're nearly always shown hewing to old stereotypes. Even withuin the limited, outskirts of society people shown here, there isn't a single Romani in the film who so much as runs a produce stand or drives a cab. Even the non-criminals are ignorant or boorish.

Kusturica's film is also a magical realism story. It makes sense in a story like that to have a bit of people with magic to them, with some powers, some curses, some things that stretch beyond reality. But again, his characters aren't just random people, they're Romani, and that group has already been portrayed as fortune tellers, witches, etc. so many times, that doing this again is somewhere between deeply unkind and (more likely) pretty racist.

I don't think Kusturica is at all intending to be racist. He's not trying to tear down the Romani people. I think he is seizing on the mythic Romani as a sort of magical realism wild card, who can live wildly colorful lives, embrace magic, dive deep into the underworld, etc. But intent isn't really a factor in whether something is racist or not.

This is both mesmerizingly well-made and racist. It's both.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:59 AM on November 9, 2022

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