As part of our partnership with the Dublin International Film Festival, several Media students were given the opportunity to screen and review films appearing at the festival. Here, Michaela Quinn reviews Hüseyin Tabak's Gipsy Queen.
A boxing drama with a surprising protagonist, Gipsy Queen follows Ali (Alina Serban), a Roma single mother living in Hamburg, trying to make ends meet against all odds.
Director Hüseyin Tabak (Your Beauty Is Worth Nothing, Cheeese...) puts us in a state of unease from the get-go and does not let up. The film opens with a close-up of Ali's face beaded with sweat as she gives birth alone, her young daughter banished to another room. Disowned by her family and ostracised from her community, she must make it on her own.
The story is fed to us bit by bit, and we are kept anxiously wondering what may happen next. It is impossible to look away, blink and you may miss a drastic shift in events. Gritty realism is created with a dull palette and shaky hand-held camera which follows Ali as she toils to put food on the table. She never rests except for the brief moments she pauses on the waterfront in the beautifully composed shots which mark the plot's turns.
Her determination and desperation are overwhelming. In one scene while standing on the street curb waiting for work she begs her housemate Maria to find a full-time job and bring in more money. When a car pulls up looking for cheap labour to clear asbestos, Ali is the first one to climb aboard.
It is one of these low-paid jobs that lands her in the path of Tanne (Tobias Moretti), owner of a boxing bar, and ominously nicknamed ‘the black cat’. He, like Ali, seems ill-fated and bound by misfortune; he still covets boxing renown though his moment has passed. It is through Tanne she finds herself back in the ring her father raised her in.
Despite being at home in the ring, It is difficult to shake a feeling of unease, we are never sure if all will come good in the end.
Serban’s performance is outstanding, her physical acting alone tells this story of determination, strife and injustice. Ali is the Gipsy Queen, and Tabak puts us firmly in the ring with her. By the end, it is impossible not to find yourself chanting her name with the crowd.
Michaela Quinn is studying for a master’s in TV and Radio Journalism at Griffith College Dublin. With a background in film studies, language and literature, she is passionate about a good auld tale. She writes intermittently on her blog.