Dušan Hanák: Rosy Dreams (Ružové sny), 1976

reviewed by Anne E. Kellogg © 2005

Dušan Hanák’s Rosy Dreams is significant in Central European cinema because it deals with a minority group that is unable to integrate into Czechoslovak society. Issues such as race and racial conflict could not be addressed under communism in 1976 because of the myth of collective community enforced by the communist authorities. Even though the communists refused to acknowledge it in public, the Roma (gypsies) were on the fringe of society. Filmed partly on location in a Roma shantytown, this was the first Central European film that attempted to show the Roma in a realistic manner.

Rosy Dreams is a difficult film to categorize. It is not a musical, a comedy, a documentary, or a fantasy, and yet it contains all of these elements and displays the same quirky sense of humor that is associated with Czech and Slovak films of the 1960s. It was called a “romantic comedy” in the former Czechoslovakia, although it certainly does not coincide with the American definition of that genre, which calls for lots of laughs and requires a “happy end.” By comparison, Rosy Dreams is somewhat tragic and, if it were for rent in a video store, it would likely end up under “drama.”

Rosy Dreams is a story about Jakub (Juraj Nvota), a Slovak teenage postman, and Jolana (Iva Bittová, who has subsequently become an accomplished actor and musician, and has a CD released in the United States), a Romani girl, who fall in love and try to maintain a relationship in the midst of prejudice, negative stereotypes, and social rejection. Their story illustrates the casual, as well as aggressive, discrimination mixed couples often experience from both sides of an ethnic community and some stereotypes that they themselves bring into their relationship. The couple does not seem to realize what they are up against when they fall in love. They encounter a spectrum of negative attitudes from parents to bosses and to random villagers, all of whom openly express disapproval. Jakub’s mother (Hana Slivková), the manager of a tiny grocery store, suspects Jolana of stealing and searches her tote-bag; Jakub, in turn, is badly beaten up by Romani men in the village tavern for dancing with Jolana. The adults become so antagonistic toward them that the teenage couple mostly prefers to spend their time together in the surrounding fields and forests.

The only character in the film not concerned about Jolana’s Romani heritage is Jakub’s unconventional uncle Anton (Josef Hlinomaz), who does not care what other people think of him. Jakub goes to him when he needs most to be himself, to express the magical side of his personality that his parents cannot understand: he likes to entertain people with little tricks, often with birds, which occasionally transcend mere trickery and become magic in the film. In one instance, a hen that has been shot and is obviously dead comes alive in his hands, flies free onto the roof, only to be ready for cooking again minutes later. Significantly, Jakub brings Jolana to his uncle’s outpost to woo her and it is there that they share their first kiss. Like the forest, this outpost seems to be a place of wonder away from the ordinary world. Jakub prefers to dwell in such a place mentally, where he can experience extraordinary things. For the most part, the magical events, mostly Jakub’s tricks, fit into the film smoothly and interestingly. They add another dimension to the surface storyline in a poetic way.

The somewhat puzzling moments when dead rabbits and hens suddenly come alive again also have a role in the structure of the film. These seemingly self-contained scenes set up the audience for other meaningful, but magical, moments, such as when Jolana calls to Jakub over the loudspeaker or the shots of Jakub and Jolana as the only dancers in a crowded tavern pigeons coo. They have eyes and ears only for each other, and the scene is shot from a high angle, as if through the eyes of their emotions.

However, Rosy Dreams keeps its visual, narrative magic separate from Jolana’s and Jakub’s storyline, which sends them on an intriguing collision course. The two are not attracted to each other because they are free of Slovak and Romani stereotypes about each other’s societies. Quite the contrary, each of them looks for that stereotype in the other. Their love survives their village, but it cannot survive the city to which they flee. Once free of the struggle against immediate societal pressures, the consequences of their everyday decisions make them realize that they are not what they had imagined each other to be.

Jakub is a dreamer; his little tricks are his life. He claims that he keeps pigeons because of their history as mail carriers, but it is more than that. He loves the birds’ ability to go where he cannot. Jakub is attracted to the Roma’s reputation for knowing supernatural arts and their free-roaming lifestyle, although the permanent Romani settlement that is next to his village is obviously far removed from his fantasy. He wants to escape his mundane surroundings and expects Jolana to bring more magic, wonder, and freedom into his life because of what he has heard, because he has fallen in love with the stereotype of a gypsy.

By comparison, Jolana, who is practical, wants to escape the Roma and to live more like a stereotypical Slovak family. Jakub is an only child and well-provided for, while she constantly has to help with too many children in an overcrowded, poor household. She wants to get married and have a “Slovak” home for herself and her husband, not for her extended Romani family. She expects Jakub to be stable and anchored because he is not a Rom, she wants him to bring the ordinariness of the other ethnicity—the country’s majority—into her life.

When it becomes obvious to the couple that their expectations will not be met, that what they had assumed and counted on was just a “rosy dream,” their romance starts to cool. While Jakub’s delusion of being able to live on love is crushed, Jolana, his “gypsy,” finds a steady job in the city and earns the only income they have; he wakes up next to her each morning ready to continue his dream of living like free spirits. At the same time and to her disappointment, Jolana needs to tell her “anchored Slovak” over and over again that love will not put a roof over their heads and food on the table. Her salary is not enough to support them both, to sustain their incompatible stereotypical dreams of the other. Jakub makes a secret trip to the village to steal money at the post office where he used to work. But as he takes the train back to the city, he continues to daydream, seeing himself as a lone hero with a scarf over the lower half of his face, robbing a train in a Western movie. His naivety is underscored by the costumes, including his shabby outfit, and the sets in this fantasy sequence, which are entirely those encountered on his local Slovak train.

The ending of Rosy Dreams is harder to accept and more problematic than the miracles with animals. On the one hand, it is presented in a realistic way as a logical end to Jolana’s and Jakub’s relationship, but, on the other hand, the film shrouds this harsh reality in fantasy sequences. Yet there is no miracle to save Jakub’s and Jolana’s relationship. Jakub’s character is never brought to closure and no solutions are offered for the problem of interethnic marriage, prejudice, and Romani poverty in general. After his release from prison, as Jakub delivers a letter, he sees Jolana’s wedding to another man. She now seems happy and content with her own people, and there is no real interaction between them. Their previous love now seems like make-believe, like one of Jakub’s magic tricks with birds. Indeed, the film suggests this with several shots of Jakub and Jolana, and with the lost pigeons all around, in the forest where they used to be free and in love.

For Jakub everything has changed. He has spent time in jail after stealing the money, he has lost Jolana and his pigeons, and he has effectively lost his uncle Anton (because he is getting married again). In the midst of all these loses, a Romani girl, who works in the village’s town hall, marries a Slovak repairman. If their marriage works out, they will have succeeded where Jakub and Jolana failed; and if these two can succeed, so can others. Viewers, however, will never know the ending to this anonymous couple’s experiment of hope and change; they must draw their own conclusions.

Anne E. Kellogg (University of Pittsburgh)

Rosy Dreams (Ružové sny)
Slovakia (Czechoslovakia) 1976, 88 minutes
Director: Dušan Hanák
Screenwriters: Dušan Hanák, Dušan Dušek
Cinematography: Jozef Šimončič
Music: Petr Hapka
Production designer: Ivan Kot
Editing: Alfréd Benčič
Cast: Juraj Nvota, Iva Bittová, Hana Slivková, Josef Hlinomaz, Václav Babka, Libuše Havelková, Anton Trón
Production: Koliba (Bratislava)

Dušan Hanák: Rosy Dreams (Ružové sny), 1976

reviewed by Anne E. Kellogg © 2005

Updated: 21 Dec 05