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Belgian film centres on Slovak Roma

A new film by Ruben Desiere tells a fictional tale of three Roma from Slovakia and how they decide to rob the national bank in Brussels.

The Flower Shop(Source: Courtesy of IFF Rotterdam)

The film The Flower Shop is not what we are used to when people mention the Roma people. It does not romanticise their lifestyle or make a drama of their social problems and even suppresses the issue of racism. The movie is just a contemplative story of people who do not have money and director Ruben Desiere even wishes the audience wouldn’t see the issue of the Roma in it, though he knows that is not possible.

No job, no outlook

The film tells the story of three young Slovak Roma in Brussels. On New Year’s Eve, they only celebrate that they managed to survive another year, as they have no money and no probability for having any. In the face of such dark prospects, they slowly and patiently create a plan to rob the National Bank of Belgium. Did making Roma into thieves in a movie support or hinder Roma from Slovakia?

Roma issues do not interest him

“Maybe you will not believe me but I am not interested in the Roma issue at all,” the director said in an interview for Sme. “Neither am I interested in the issue of minorities and immigrants in Brussels. But I know that the movie gets a certain tint when I have them in it, and this cannot be ignored. That is simply reality,” he explained.

“I know it is cliché to make thieves of the Roma,” the director Ruben Desiere continued, explaining why he decided to shoot such a story.

The reason why he made The Flower Shop, even including the Roma language, is much simpler: money. He knows Rasťo, Tomáš and Mižu, three men playing themselves in a fictional storyline, and knows they have problems with money in real life. “There is something very cruel in our world,” says Desiere. “Work has the central place in our lives – and if you don’t have work and you don’t have money, your lives are empty.”

Once they have money

Yes, the lives of Rasťo, Tomáš and Mižu look empty in his movie, but the absence of meaningful work or activity is filled with precious melancholy.

The three men analyse their possibilities and outlooks modestly, silently and likeably, pondering what could happen if they had money. As long as they do not have any, they have neither a name nor a face in Brussels.

“If something happened to us, nobody would even look for us,” they state. All the circumstances encourage them to organise a great robbery.

The Belgian director does not deny that he confirms a cliché with his story. At the same time, however, he is sure he is fighting the cliché of the thieving Roma with his film. “Yesterday, a Romanian taxi driver gave me a ride and he said it is the Roma who steal in Romania. It is not important whether I believe it or not,” Desiere noted.

“I liked the sentence of a Hollywood director: Yes, it is a film cliché that the Roma steal – but have you ever seen a Roma rob a bank? Really... Why couldn’t he rob it in a movie?”

Ruben Desiere does not want to conform to any rule of what an actor can or cannot do in a film. “Just because Rasťo doesn’t have blue eyes and blond hair, just because he is not Brad Pitt, he cannot rob a bank?”

Reality in fiction

The three Roma in his film are not professional actors. It is important they are honest and natural in the movie, and that they fulfilled the idea the young Belgian has of art: one has to also let reality in the fiction.

“I am not the type with many ideas,” Desiere said. “And if I have them, I never trust them hundred percent. I rather test them through some real element, and let the ideas confront it. This element can be an authentic space where I shoot, or an actor whom I cast in the story,” he summed up.

He made The Flower Shop with Slovak co-production, also receiving support from the Slovak Audiovisual Fund. Its producer is Tomáš Kaminský.

The Slovak premiere is in March at the Febiofest film festival and immediately afterwards it will be screened in common national distribution.

Ruben Desiere will come to the screening as well and is looking forward to Košice and the Slovak mountains.

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