‘Gitano’ plagiarism?

June 25, 2008 at 12:33 am

Spain, a few years ago. Well-known Spanish writer Juan Madrid made a plagiarism complaint against Spain’s highest-paid novelist, Arturo Pérez-Reverte.

According to Madrid, Pérez-Reverte’s screenplay for Gitano (Gypsy, Spain, 2000, dir. Manuel Palacios), starring French model Laetitia Casta, had been lifted from a script for a project he had planned with an Argentinean partner but never materialized, a film that was to be called Gitana: Corazones de púrpura (Gypsy Woman: Hearts of Purple). The resemblance between the two scripts, the claimant insisted, was simply too close, suggesting that one was based, at least in part, on the other. Both films were tales of crime and passion set in the murky Gitano underworld; in each story the protagonist would be involved in vendettas after his release from jail, he would then clash with resentful police, and would have his troubles finally resolved through the idiosyncratic yet just Roma patriarch-ruled kriss tribunal. In addition, the protagonist would recover from the betrayal of a treacherous lover by falling in love with a fervent flamenco dancer, suitably called Lola in either case.

The plagiarism complaint was soon dismissed. ‘The only common feature which makes the two scripts comparable’ a statement read, ‘is their interest in the Gypsy world,’ the court concluded. The excessive similarities were explained away as having been of ‘genre’ nature.

The plagiarism showdown is yet another episode illustrating the tenacity of those basic elements that have survived obstinately over the years as key tropes of the ‘Gypsy’ film. Both writers had, once again, applied the stereotypes of the ‘Gypsy genre’ – passionate love, hot blood, trouble with the law, and so on. Both scripts were telling stories of poor, passionate and freedom-loving Gypsies who end up in self-destruction. In the context of this overarching narrative, most of the traditional romanticised ‘Gypsy’ representations reproduce one another anyhow.

Whatever the plot details, the typical ‘Gypsy’ narrative revolves around presumptions about what ‘true’ Gypsies are like. They live an exciting lifestyle, infatuated by all-consuming passions and inhabiting a microcosm populated by freewheeling sensual women and men who make love in open-air, thus turning even the most miserable environment into a setting full of high-spirited splendor.

The ‘Gitano’ plagiarism story suggests that nothing much has changed in recent representational patterns related to the Roma; they still move within the age-old stereotypes from the pre-romantic era and remain as exploitative as all those older literary and cinematic texts analyzed so well in the work of Katie Trumpener (‘The Time of the Gypsies: A ‘People without History’ in the Narratives of the West.’ In: Identities, ed. Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (eds.), University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1995, pp 338-380).

© Dina Iordanova
25 June 2008