It is quite impossible to imagine Russia without Gypsies in their bright flowery clothes, with their passionate songs and sizzling dances. A symbol of nomadic life, these bright individuals became characters of many Russian writers, including Alexander Pushkin and Leo Tolstoy. Pushkin was one of the first to introduce and popularize the Gypsy culture among the educated people. His poem titled The Gypsies became a fine representation of the culture of these passionate wanderers… eternal slaves of the road.
Another fine representation of a world lost to the ravages of time, is the 1976 Soviet film Queen of the Gypsies (Табор уходит в небо). This film, which I recently watched for the first time, left me completely hypnotized by the picturesque costumes and soulful songs, as well as their idealistic perceptions of our world. Set during a time when they were just a tribe of ill-behaved rebellious people, wandering from one place to another, the movie was a perfect portrait of people who prefer the spiritual to the material, freedom to routine, passion to compromise.
But to put it shortly, it was a simple and sweet melodrama telling the love story between the beautiful and rebellious girl Radda and the handsome horse thief Zobar.
I love you, but I love freedom more. (Radda from Queen of the Gypsies)
The first evidences of Gypsies in the Russian Empire appear in the 16th century. It is said they came from the south into Ukraine and from the east into Belarus and the Baltic countries. Certainly it wouldn’t be long until they began roaming the steppes of Southern Russia and Bessarabia. They travelled during the summer, but during winter some preferred to pay for their lodging in small peasant villages. Looking past their label of thieves and do-nothings, Gypsies earned their living by horse trading, music, dancing, crafts, and fortune telling. In addition, they got money from their street performances, given that they sang wherever they went. I can bet that living in a Gypsy camp literally resembled living in a musical!
Excerpt from Queen of the Gypsies, showing Radda (Svetlana Toma) singing on the streets.
Both characters of our movie had an insatiable thirst for freedom, just like every other member of the Gypsy community. But what part does love play? A love that burns, my dear readers. That same passion I mentioned earlier, the one that weighted more than compromise. Radda and Zobar felt conquered by a strong passion, one that soon became an obstacle in the road of freedom. A feeling they could not control, a pride they were not able to swallow, and a freedom they were not ready to renounce. As could be predicted, more than love each of them valued their freedom and pride… a stubborn Gypsy pride.
For some reason a quote by Paulo Coelho appears in my mind, “Love is an untamed force. When we try to control it, it destroys us. When we try to imprison it, it enslaves us. When we try to understand it, it leaves us feeling lost and confused.” A love that burns doesn’t always end well. And yes, this is a perfect opportunity to hint to you all that the movie does not have a happy ending… simply because Zobar and Radda’s nature ended up destroying them… because after all, some people are just not meant to be together, no matter how strong their love is.
The plot develops as Radda and Zobar’s attraction leads them into spending a romantic night together, promising full devotion to one another. The morning after, Zobar proposes marriage to her in front of all the members of her group, but she refuses him saying that she won’t accept unless he gets on his knees and kisses her right hand. Instead of doing so, the proud Zobar commits a passionate crime, stabbing his loved one in the heart. Next, Zobar gets himself killed by Radda’s father, as revenge for his daughter’s tragic death.
Without narrating the ending, which I hope you will all forgive me for, this post would have been meaningless, it would be missing a point, a central theme I could wander around. A beautiful tale of love, freedom, and pride in 20th century Bessarabia, this movie is for all those who would like to understand the essence of the Gypsies while enjoying their songs and apparent optimism.
Picture credits: http://fuckyeah-movie-stills.tumblr.com/