‘Across the Tracks’ is a gripping film for the general viewer. It is beautifully filmed in observational style (lingering scenes of muddy courtyards) with enough subtitled interview material to provide context. A. Sutherland.
Rom is the word that describes Vlach Gypsies, unassimilated descendents of Gypsy slaves in Wallachia in Romania in the 19th century. A larger group, the Romungro, are more obviously part of Hungarian society: they speak Hungarian, not Romany. Romungros are the people who play violins in restaurants; ‘true’ Rom, the Vlach, wouldn’t dream of it. The total Gypsy population in Hungary forms 3% of the Hungarian population the same proportion as people of Asian or Caribbean origin in Britain. This Disappearing World film explores the Vlach Gypsies’ position in socialist Hungary through the eyes of three related families. Maron and her husband Jozi work in conventional jobs where work is compulsory: this is the fundamental first principle of the `official’ economy. Maron and Jozi use their income to improve their impoverished lives. They are becoming more like the gazo — the contemptuous Romany term for all Hungarians, meaning ‘peasants’. Jozi’s first wife, Terez, and her husband Mokus try to realise their dreams in a more Gypsy-like fashion. Terez scavenges in rubbish bins for bread to fatten pigs which she hopes to sell for Mokus to buy horses. Mokus reluctantly works in a factory but wants to be a horse dealer like his brother-in-law Sera. He is disqualified from work by a dubious disability, and instead buys and sells horses, ‘turning money around, so that more comes to me’. The market is central to the Gypsy economy, but is not seen as a means of accumulating wealth. The market exists to circulate wealth, to ensure money passes through as many hands as possible – so that all may benefit from it. If a Gypsy acquires money, he is expected to celebrate with his friends, his ‘brothers’. Horses are like temporary bank deposits, ready to be exchanged or cashed in when a ‘brother’ needs money. This film provides an interesting view of the tensions between the Hungarian state and the Gypsies, and of the complex contradictions of the Gypsies’ lives. It is recommended for classes in anthropology, sociology, European studies, ethnicity, ecology, and political studies.
A. Sutherland, 1989. ‘Across the Tracks: The Vlach Gypsies of Hungary’. Anthropology Today, Vol. 5, No. 1, pp. 20–21.