Papusza, the mother of all cursed poets

From Papusza’s first breathtaking image, a wide shot of a gipsy camp in 1910, the black-and-white photography of Krzysztof Ptak and Wojciech Staron raises the film’s aesthetic bar to a level rarely achieved by black-and-white cinema (reminiscent of Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida or Béla Tarr’s The Turin Horse). This last work by Polish couple Joanna and Krzysztof Krauze is a reminder of an often-pictorial art, a kind of link to My Nikifor - the story of an unjustly unknown painter - which won the directors a Crystal Globe for Best Film in Karlovy Vary in 2005.

Papusza, which will be available on VoD as part of theDocs from around the world collection from 2 May, tells the story of a real person’s life, Bronislawa Wajs (aka Papusza), the first gipsy poet to have been achieve recognition following her works’ publication in Poland. Rejected by her community who accused her of having betrayed her people’s secrets, Papusza lived through a time of great poverty and abnegation, plagued by guilt until her death. 

Filmed in the historic Rom dialect, the film goes back and forth between eras, often to the particularly renowned year of 1949, when Papusza (Jowita Budnik) met Jerzy Ficowski (Antoni Pawlicki), a “gadjo” (a non-Rom), also a poet, who is welcomed by the gipsy community with whom he lived for two years. Papusza gradually gave her texts to Ficowski, which the author decided to publish later. Through them, the entire gipsy tradition is passed on in works that also bear witness to the life of a woman who never considered herself a poetess, but rather a cursed gipsy whose biggest mistake was to learn how to read.  

Through the story of the tragic life of a child, sold and married by force to her musician uncle, who escaped the fate Hitler reserved for gipsies, it is the tale of all gipsies that is told through their most significant moments, as when the Polish government forced them to abandon caravans and move into houses. “As long as there are wheels, the gipsy people will travel”, claims the fallen patriarch who shares the same sentence as his wife. Although it did not give her a decent life, history will recognise she was right, even if it took her mind and the poor Papusza descended into madness and isolation until her death in 1987.

To find out more about Papusza, which was selected and awarded at the 2013 Karlovy Vary festival:

30 April 2016, by Cineuropa