Director – Mira Erdevički – 2022 – UK – Cert. 12a – 88m
Three Roma people who have settled in the UK after leaving the Czech and Slovak Republics must navigate life both after Brexit and during the pandemic lockdown – out in UK cinemas on Friday, April 28th
Something film does extremely well is to show people’s lives or wider social attitudes at a given point in time. This documentary was planned to explore a very specific subject matter, but when events changed, the film changed with them to take account of developments. Erdevički originally intended to study the effect on Roma people immigrating to the UK, but as she was doing so, first, the UK’s vote in favour of Brexit resulted in extra bureaucratic obstacles for these people to navigate should they wish to stay in the UK and, second, trying to deal with all that as well as facing all the challenges everybody else was facing under pandemic lockdown. During the pandemic, she had her three subjects film themselves.
Erdevički has chosen her three Roma subjects well: they are all go-getters. The type of people who get things done. All three have come to the UK because they or their families wanted to better their lives and make a positive contribution. The tales of how things worked and still work in the Czech republic here don’t do that country any favours; the testimonies suggest that Roma are generally considered less capable than others and are often isolated in Special Needs schools (with far less hours of teaching) on grounds of race. In the UK, by way of contrast, they are put into ordinary schools and thrive.
Ondrej Oláh did well in secondary school in Leicester, went on to become a teaching assistant and by the end of the film is studying for a Masters Degree in psychology. Deniz aka Denisa Gannon found there were hardly any job opportunities for Roma in her home country, but was initially able to get a job as a cleaner at a Pizza Express in Coventry. After qualifying in Law, she becomes the UK’s first Roma Immigration lawyer, working out of Coventry Law Centre. Petr Torák so impressed people interviewing him in Peterborough that he worked with the police helping integrate not only Roma and Czech but also Romanian and Polish communities into the area. He ends up as the area’s Czech Honorary Consul, the only one anywhere to come from Roma roots, according to the Czech ambassador.
The editing chops and changes a lot between the three of them, and if you’re not good with faces, it can on occasion be confusing as to which of the two men you’re watching. We see Deniz struggling with the mountain of paperwork required before the deadline for her numerous European clients wishing to receive their settled British status to remain here after Brexit, both clearly stressed by the sheer quantity of the numbers of clients but determined to get it all done on time. Ondrej visits the Czech republic and brings home a wife (he falls out with her family over doing so) and then has to go through the whole resettlement before deadline exercise on her behalf. He finds himself doing a Covid test at the same time as his new wife is doing a pregnancy test! Petr proudly shows us round the interior of Peterborough’s new Czech consulate with it framed currency and pictures of well-known Czech people on the walls.
The self-filming mean that some scenes are, to all intents and purposes, home movie footage. Deniz’ winsome toddler steals the film whenever she appears, with some of her footage shot by her son Hynek. We see Ondrej and his wife-to-be partying with friends and neighbours in the Czech Republic before the fall out, and Petr hanging round his Czech home with family members who’ve also come to the UK. When Deniz at one point talks in disparaging tones about Brexit, it’s hard not to disagree with her. If you want an inside view of the struggles faced by EU citizens who’ve had their UK residence rights affects by Brexit, this is as good a place as any to start.
Leaving To Remain is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, April 28th.