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PostPosted: Tue Oct 17, 2006 4:34 pm    Post subject: review about Gypo region 1 DVD Reply with quote

This review can be found at

Gypo (2005)(Widescreen) (given four stars)

After an unpromising credits sequence that has "Indie 101" written all over it, it's a wonderful surprise that Gypo, director Jan Dunn's Dogme 95 drama from the U.K., pulls you right into its story and keeps you riveted there for the entirety of the film's 98-minute running time. Told Rashomon-style, i.e. from three different characters' points of view, it's the simple story of what happens when a working-class British family intersects with a young refugee from the Czech Republic. The film pulls you in from the get-go, but it's disturbing and emotionally draining (even crushing), which can make it difficult to watch. At the same time, it's really quite moving, and in the end, very beautiful.

It's astonishing that this film, shot on a shoestring budget and in a mere 13 days, wields such emotional power. That it's Dunn's first feature-length outing is even more amazing. She is obviously a director of great insight and talent, and one who doesn't shy away from a challenge, adhering to the Dogme 95 rules of filmmaking to within an inch of her life (but, as we find out in the DVD's engaging making-of extra, finding clever ways to bend them). And this cannot be easy; the rules, put forth by Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, are the filmmaking equivalent of a straightjacket. Cameras must be hand-held (which accounts for Dunn's amateur-looking credits sequence); anything but ambient light is unacceptable; sound cannot be added, altered, or removed post-filming; scenes must be shot on location; and no one can go to the bathroom during filming (OK, that last bit is made up, but still).

The movie is more character- than plot-driven, but there is a plot, and as we watch it unfold from different points of view, more and more is revealed to us. It's a technique that works very effectively in building tension in the story. And, wisely, Dunn leaves a lot unsaid until the end.

Gypo is, first and foremost, the story of Helen (Pauline McLynn), a 40-something mother and grandmother who works the late shift at a supermarket and spends her off-time getting dinner on the table for her brutish, taciturn husband, naïve son, and mouthy teenage daughter, who has an infant daughter she's always shunting off on mum so that she can go out with her friends. When Helen is not nagging her daughter about the baby or trying to get her husband to communicate like a normal human being, she's broadening her horizons down at the local art studio, where she's enrolled in a sculpting class. Her husband is unsupportive of her creativity, but that's really the least of it. The two are in a loveless marriage that began two decades before when Helen found herself accidentally pregnant. They have nothing in common. Possibly they never have.

There is something of a Mike Leigh sensibility to this movie, both in its surface bleakness and realistic look. But, as in many of Leigh's films, a little sun must shine in even the cloudiest of lives. For Helen that comes in the form of Tasha (Chloe Sirene), an 18-year-old beauty-school student who fled persecution in the Czech Republic, coming to the U.K. with her mother (played by Rula Lenska—anyone of a certain age will remember that "I'm Rula Lenska" commercial). But Tasha and her mother are met with prejudice in their little seaside English town, and have to put up with being called "gypo" and dodge terrorization by narrow-minded street toughs. Tasha is Helen's daughter's friend, but soon it's obvious to everyone that she is more fond of Helen than her daughter. Helen is quite taken with Tasha too, and before long the young refugee and the middle-aged woman are palling around town together. It is also clear from the outset that Tasha has a crush on Helen, mooning at her unabashedly and, eventually, declaring her love for her.

As Helen, McGlynn is a revelation. In the U.K., she is known primarily as a comic. But, like many a comic before her, when put in front of the camera for a dramatic role, she transforms into a serious actress, playing her character with depth and great feeling. She seems so much like a regular old British wife and mother (as ordinary as bangers and mash) that it's hard to believe she's anything but. The same holds true for Paul McGann, who plays Helen's husband. By all accounts in the DVD's making-of and feature commentary extras (which are both worth a look), McGann (Doctor Who) is a very nice fellow. But he gives the kind of tightly wound performance that leaves little room for believing he is anything but a pugnacious, small-minded, self-pitying brute with a very ugly chip on his shoulder. It's also a shock to find out that Sirene is not from the Czech Republic. Hearing her British accent in the making-of feature is just as jarring as finding out that McLynn is not a housewife and McGann is a nice guy. None of it adds up in the mind. In fact, the entire movie is a revelation. Who bloody knew?


I've just seen the making-of-featurette from which Paul is conspicuously absent.

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