A young gypsy woman trying to lead a “normal” life is in a constant battle against prejudice and her own community’s entrenched behavior in “The Way Out.” Returning to the milieu of his debut, “Marian,” helmer-scripter Petr Vaclav depicts a marginalized society so conditioned by stereotyping that it becomes almost impossible to break away from unfavorable expectations. Hampered by Vaclav’s tendency to underdevelop his scenes, the pic benefits from Klaudia Dudova’s charismatic lead performance, but doesn’t have legs strong enough to find its way out of small fests and regional showcases.
An early scene of Zaneta (Dudova) at the doctor’s acts as a quick intro to the character’s backstory: The daughter of an alcoholic father and a mother who died young, she’s had three abortions, starting at age 15, and is determined to avoid hereditary pitfalls associated with the Roma community. She lives with her partner, David (David Istok); their lovely 3-year-old, child Sara; and Zaneta’s younger sis, Cuckoo (Sara Makulova), who is 13 but looks and behaves much older.
The cards are already stacked against them: Zaneta can’t find a job thanks to anti-gypsy prejudice and a lack of experience, and David’s out of work. The loan sharks he made a deal with aren’t accepting any more delays, and his conversations with Andrea (Maria Ferencova-Zajacova), the call girl upstairs, make Zaneta furious. Everywhere they turn the system rebuffs them, whether at the welfare benefits office, where they’re treated like cheating scum, or with prospective employers, who presume they’re unreliable. Zaneta is determined that Cuckoo study and stay in school, but it’s hard to rise above expectations when even politicians fuel the hatred.
Within the community, unemployment, theft and alcoholism are treated like a birthright, making it even harder to break the cycle of dependency and squalor. David’s inability to support his family, and his apparent flirtation with Andrea, drives Zaneta to decamp to her father’s, but he’s not exactly a rock of support. Meanwhile, David is being tempted by Andrea not with sex, but with the idea of robbing one of her johns, a prominent politician known for spouting vile anti-Roma rhetoric.
Inevitably comparisons will be made with Danis Tanovic’s superior “An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker,” a less didactic, more hard-hitting expose of the horrendous treatment Roma receive in their home countries. It’s an unfair association connected solely to theme, as the helmers choose very different ways of conveying their message. Vaclav, taking sole scripting credit for the first time, is good at balancing external bigotry with the gypsies’ conditioned belief that they can’t change their destiny, yet he has difficulty building scenes and too often fails to draw out the full potential of his ideas. The ending is especially weak, not because of its ambiguity, but because it feels as if Vaclav lost control of the tale and wasn’t sure where to take his characters.
Zaneta’s determination not to be trapped in the usual pitfalls makes her sympathetic but also shrewish, constantly hitting the same notes. The fault isn’t with Dudova, a spirited performer more at ease before the camera than several others in the largely non-pro cast. Lensing by Vaclav’s regular d.p. Stepan Kucera is fluidly accomplished, nicely capturing the hemmed-in spaces that trap Zaneta within their dingy walls. Editing, however, gives the sensation that a slightly longer, better movie lurks somewhere within the footage.