Narrator: Hannes Hellman.

Narrator: Hannes Hellman.

(Romanian and German dialogue)

In-depth look at Gypsies who live on the literal edge of Romanian society is surprisingly entertaining. If not exactly upbeat, “Wasteland” is not the downer you’d expect, since the subjects only appear to have hit bottom. No-frills German-made docu won’t see much theatrical action, but it’ll work well in a variety of tube settings.

Helmer Andrei Schwartz, who was born in Romania and later moved to West Germany, returned to the Cluj region, where he found an expanding Romany settlement living at the town dump.

Apparently, in the post-communist environment, Gypsies are getting pushed around again, and the pic shows an unsettled relationship between Romanians and the sometimes involuntary nomads, who are essentially recycling goods, spending days and nights sorting paper and plastic for meager sums.

The kids, however, want an education, and, although local authorities initially resist, the children flourish once they hit the books.

There is the odd confrontation between local and Gypsy, and during a spring break down by the river, the Romany bathe while white Romanians smear mud on themselves — and each group keeps a bemused eye on the other.

Although they live in bleak, unsanitary conditions, the Gypsies keep their jerry-built huts tidy, with cassette players and fine blankets brightening their inner worlds. They’re also seen dressed up for a day off in town, where they head to the local cinema (for a diet of Indian musicals and Van Damme pics, we’re told).

On the other hand, there’s plenty of smoking and drinking, and the specter of abuse hangs about some of the households.

Sticking around for several seasons — winter is best, “because there’s no smell” — Schwartz walks a fine line between involvement and objectivity. His narration, read effectively by Hannes Hellman, helps sketch out personalities (including his own) without passing judgment. He’s already convinced, rightly, that most viewers will be glad to have met the people of this manmade “Wasteland.”

Wasteland

(DOCU -- GERMAN)

Production

A Wuste Filmproduktion (Hamburg) production, in co-production with ZDF, and with support from Hamburger Filmburo. (International sales: Media Luna, Cologne.) Produced by Stefan Schubert, Ralph Schwingel. Directed, written by Andrei Schwartz.

Crew

Camera (color/B&W), Gabor Medvigy; editors, Zsusza Csakani, Teresz Losonci; music, Costel Ciofu, Crina Lacatus; sound, Josepf Kardos, Gabor Erdely; associate producer, Hans Kutnewsky. Reviewed at Vancouver Film Festival, Oct. 10, 1998. Running time: 75 MIN.
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