A portrait of the slave-holding system through the camera of Radu Jude

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Foto: calvertjournal.com

Bravo! (Aferim!) is a 2015 Romanian drama film directed by Radu Jude and the first screening of the slave-holding system in Romania, which has caused huge public outrage in Romania. Nevertheless, the film has achieved great success. It was screened in the main competition section of the 65th Berlin International Film Festival where Radu Jude won the Silver Bear for Best Director.  It was selected as the Romanian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards. Bravo! depicts a racist slave-holding system in which the Rroma were slaves of rich boyars (noblemen), which is an obscured historic fact in Romania as well as in the whole Europe.

Bravo! is set in Wallachia in the early 19th century, when a local policeman, Costandin, is hired by a boyar Cîndescu, to find Carfin, a fugitive Rromani slave. Costandin, in order to find Carfin blackmails, beats and offends other Rroma hoping that they would tell him where the fugitive was. The scenes of offences and beatings show a complete disadvantage of the Rroma who know that if they strike back they will be whipped or executed. The horrifying scene in the film is when Costandin and his son ride in a carriage together with an Orthodox priest asking him whether the Rroma are human beings at all, to which he replies to them yes, but as descendants of Ham, son of Noah, who threw horse excrements onto his father, have been cursed by Noah to be black as excrement. From this conversation we see the racist mythology that was present within the religious institutions across Europe and it was a common belief that the blood right principle absolutely conditioned the way in which power positions were defined in a society. Even today we are faced with such racist ideology whenever we hear that certain race, people or gender have special characteristics thus being subordinate or superior, richer or poorer. The Orthodox priest then remarks that only the Jews are not human beings and that all of them should be destroyed, and this is where the director suggests deeply rooted European anti-Semitism. The scene becomes even more horrible when we hear Costandin, a representative of Romanian law and morale, admiring the words of the priest calling him a wise man, which tells a lot about the relationship between state and ecclesiastical authority.

Costandin and his son find Carfin, a slave who was hiding at a craftsman’s house helping him in his work. A small Rroma boy was also hiding at the craftsman’s house since he fled from his owner because he beat him hard and even beat his elder brother to death. Nevertheless, Costandin, a local policeman sells the boy to a new slave master at the market, presenting us again complete despair and disadvantage of the Rroma in the 19th century.

Foto: variety.com

Carfin, the slave explained to Costandin that he had run away from the boyar’s estate after having an affair with his wife and begged him not to take him back to the boyar because he would surely kill him. The film also deals with the absence of women’s rights. Costandin hires a prostitute for himself and his son, telling him not to mention this to his mother, Costandin’s wife, whom he had already cheated previously raping through villages during the war. From the above mentioned, we draw a conclusion that women were not supposed to ask their husbands about their whereabouts while those were at work. Later on, we find out that the boyar broke his wife’s spine for sleeping with a Rroma. He beat her with a stick which, according to the laws back then, was allowed and even worse, socially accepted, which Costandin explains saying that it is wife’s duty to receive husband’s hits. Even the local policeman Costandin gets beaten by the boyar himself when asking him to save the life of Carfin, the Rroma, and Carfin was brutally crippled and eventually killed.

This film introduces an extremely difficult life of the Rroma people during the European slavery, which lasted from the 14th to the 19th centuries, during which time the Rroma, who worked with their own hands, earned wealth for the white man. Besides this main and extremely neglected topic Bravo! gives us an insight into a whole range of injustices that were considered normal less than 200 years ago, making us wonder whether there is such a thing as Rromani, female or any other ethnic, national, racial or gender nature or it is actually about a series of fictional stories, perpetuated mythologies, told from all over in order to justify social injustice and preserve the interests of those most powerful.

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