Exercising admirable restraint in its expose of ingrained racism in the Romanian educational system, absorbing docu “Our School” follows the sad yet resilient journey of three Roma children over four years as they grapple with prejudice and stereotyping. Unveiled at Tribeca before SilverDocs, where it won the Sterling Award for top nonfiction feature, even-keeled pic carries echoes of Michael Apted’s groundbreaking “Up” series and should enjoy fest, tube and ancillary enrollments.
In 2006, 30 Romanian towns were given European funds to integrate their classrooms. In one of these, the northern Transyvlanian burg of Targu Lapus, the gung-ho mayor extolls the virtues of cooperation as he has the fire department deliver water to the outlying Roma families. Though the mayor’s condescension is evident, 8-year-old Roma bundle of energy Alin Moldovan is more succinct: “You guessed it, Brainiac, I’m a gypsy.”
The Roma children — who also include the more introspective Beniamin Lingurar, 12, and coltish Dana Vargana, 16 — are dutifully loaded on to a horse-drawn cart and brought to the town’s school, even as renovations begin on the dilapidated Roma schoolhouse only steps from their encampment.
What follows is systemic prejudice: The smooth school director offers facile explanations for the newcomers’ steady isolation; the high-strung educator charged with conducting a remedial class laments her lot in life; and even the wife of the priest who employs Vargana to do housework talks down to her. A lone compassionate teacher and Alin’s football chum are practically the only two Romanians on view who reach out to the kids.
Credit helmer Mona Nicoara with having the wisdom and fortitude to let the depth of the problem reveal itself naturally, correctly anticipating viewer outrage as the children are marginalized over time. Ovidiu Marginean’s intuitive lensing favors steady and traditional framing, while gypsy punk combo Gogol Bordello’s recent “Break the Spell” over the closing credits neatly sums up this tragic societal dilemma: “You love our music, but you hate our guts.”