The people of director Aaron Yeger’s documentary A People Uncounted are the Roma, more commonly known as Gypsies, a diasporic ethnic group whose most concentrated communities live in Europe. Often denied citizenship, and widely discriminated against for their cultural differences and darker skin, the Roma have long been an easy scapegoat for nationalist and white power movements, which are growing yet again.
Yeger makes parallels between the European Jewish experience and that of the Roma, reflected in a history of disenfranchisement, a common musicality — and in mass annihilation by the Nazis.
However, without voices in power or governments to speak for them, the Romani story remains largely unknown. In interviews with Romani people, Yeger aims to change that. Some are survivors of the Holocaust (known as the Porajmos, meaning “devouring” or “rape”) and others are archivists, musicians, young adults hoping to raise happy families and find work, and children mugging for the camera.
All are struggling, or have struggled, to make a life in the face of personal and institutional racism and persecution. One old man, recollecting, puckers his mouth in pain: “How much I suffered, and how much longer I have to suffer this terrible life.”
Yet life, moment by moment, is joyous, and Yeger does not ignore this fact. When he visits his subjects in their homes, he watches them cook, play soccer, and dance. If Hannah Arendt is correct that evil is banal, happiness must be, too.
Yeger merges old-world aesthetics with clean, contemporary camerawork, infusing the present with the past. Of course, history is never so far away as we’d like to believe, and what Yeger stirs up is profoundly unsettling and deeply moving.