Reviewed by: Chris

Gypo (offensive slang for Gypsy) is a film that connects with the audience on the issue of racial tensions in a way that few films can. It does so with the use of great British talent but, more controversially, by using the Dogme method of filmmaking. It explodes myths about refugees and exposes attitudes that need to be dealt with. It tells three sides to the same story, each with equal intensity, and makes us care.

Dogme was invented as a backlash tool against the formulaic approach of Hollywood movies, where anything can be "made" to look real, given enough money and special effects. Dogme goes back to the basics of art in film by a self-imposed discipline of 10 "rules," known as the Vow of Chastity. These include no added effects (music, sudden time and location shifts, superficial action such as murder) and using only hand held cameras and basic lighting. The point is to force the attention onto the the actors and the script and not let the director off the hook with quick-fix technical solutions, or dazzlements (The complete Vow can be found here). Working under this degree of pressure, many Dogme attempts have been failures, but the successes are noticeable. The sense of "reality" is so acute that a relatively minor plot development can have immense impact.

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At one point, as I watched Gypo, an understated emotion hit me hard in the chest and brought tears to my eyes: one of the characters (Helen) has become friends with some Romany refugees who are being subjected to racial abuse. Making light of it ("They were going cheap in Asda"), she gives one of them a phone as a present, playing it down so as not to seem overprotective. I thought: I don't care if this is fiction, or reality, that is a very real, poignant, caring, loving emotion she has just expressed. The film had connected with me in a way that went beyond suspension of disbelief, and it was worthwhile and uplifting to experience. A similar reaction happened as the plot explored more intense passions.

Helen (Pauline McLynn) is in a marriage that could be described as long-term and loveless. "Don't wake the baby up," Paul says to her gently as he takes his conjugal rights - against her will. Helen feels used. Paul is at his wits end from poverty, in spite of hard work. He blames refugees for taking other people's jobs, even though he doesn't think it below him to use them when he needed. Helen feels she just clears up the mess for everyone else, including her unmarried daughter and granddaughter. Her life has no point.

Tasha, an attractive Romany Czech refugee, who wants to better herself, comes into their life, hoping to get a passport, citizenship and freedom - things everyone else takes for granted. She is also in mortal fear of her husband and brothers who might be looking for her.

I watched Gypo at the UK Premiere and so was fortunate to be able to speak to the cast and crew briefly. I asked one of the actors if working under Dogme had been different. There was intensity in his voice as he recalled,"You can't fake anything!" Normally there is a point in a script where it might say, "you killed someone," but of course everyone knows it's not real because people don't actually get killed in films. With Dogme, if you really can't do it, it isn't done.

The effect is that the audience buys in to what is being presented with a lot more trust - all of Gypo's script was improvised, under director Jan Dunn's supervision, although this is not a requirement of Dogme. I asked Paul McGann, who plays Paul, what further advice he would give an actor planning to make a Dogme movie. He replied, "Get plenty of sleep!" And then added on a more thoughtful note, "And have an open mind."

Dogme looks pretty weird, but with results like this it is hard to knock, so do as the man says, keep an open mind until you've seen it.

Gypo is a remarkably convincing look at a dysfunctional working-class British family, with its goodness and badness. It made me feel proud to be in a country that produces such high quality, riveting cinema (and on such an incredibly tiny budget!) It unites art, entertainment and responsible social comment in a way that few films aspire to and many less achieve.

Director Jan Dunn cares about making movies in a way that shows integrity to the medium, responsibility within society and a duty to give the audience its money's worth. Her enthusiasm and skill provides a role model for aspiring filmmakers.

For all its subject matter, Gypo is one of the most moving and joyous films I've seen recently and probably the best British film this year.

Reviewed on: 01 Sep 2005
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The impact of a young Czech refugee on a British working-class family.
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Director: Jan Dunn

Writer: Jan Dunn

Starring: Pauline McLynn, Paul McGann, Rula Lenska, Chloe Sirene

Year: 2005

Runtime: 98 minutes

Country: UK


EIFF 2005

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