The coming and going of the gypsies

Yo, el vaquilla, quinqui cinema, and the usual political whining.

Yesterday in 1447 a duke, a count and a great multitude of Egyptians made a triumphal entry into Barcelona at the tail end of their great pseudo-biblical Flight into Europe. And the gypsies are still out there on Barcelona’s periphery, their three principal subdivisions united by mutual loathing.

Gypsy policy in Spain as elsewhere has traditionally consisted of imprisonment and eviction with the odd bout of executions, and the uneven struggle between hope and experience combined with a lack of any practical alternative means that that’s probably how things will continue.

But there has always been a romantic streak in the state’s approach to outlaws. During conservative Catalan nationalist domination of the regional government this led to years of rural Catalan bandolero apparatchik wank culminating in the Serrallonga series a couple of years ago. In the last couple of years, as the previous generation of culturecrats are put out to grass, the Catalan nationalist socialists have started to produce a rival dream-stream–urban Andalusian immigrant apparatchik wank–with the latest contribution being an exhibition at the CCCB of 80s quinqui culture.

Quinqui comes from the French quincaille, and its owners (who never refer to themselves as such) are sociologically one with the British Isles’ tinkers and rag-and-bone men. The government has absolutely no interest in these people, but needs the occasional symbolic commitment to the much wider group of voters who listen to gypsy music. (PSC, the PSOE’s Catalan franchise, lags behind the British Labour Party in the casual contempt with which it treats its core working class vote, but it’s getting there.)

Anyway, enough progressive bitching. All the films from the period are the craziest crap you’ll find outside these folks’ inventory and my favourite–and the best-known–is Yo, el vaquilla. It may be helpful to think of it as a no-budget mashup of the legendary 1970s TVE Andalusian bandolero series Curro Jiménez (also, improbably, acted in more or less standard Spanish) with the Dukes of Hazzard, with the very vaguest of nods to Italian neorealism and the vagabonds and delinquents of Barojian feuilletonism.

The film portrays the precocious and obsessive criminality of Juan José Moreno Cuenca and his friends and family via a mixture of stilted scripted interviews from one of the prisons in which he spent 28 of his 42 years and poorly acted flashbacks. Here’s the hook, the credits featuring los Chichos and the opening sequence in Barcelona’s Torre de Baró district:

You’ll find numerous (remixed) versions of the extremely popular Seat chases from this and other films in the Perros callejeros series, as well as news clips chronicling the decline and death in action (gunbattles, falls during daring escapes) of his stepfather and several brothers and colleagues, on video sharing sites. Camp de la Bota, the seaside ex-detention and -execution camp around which most of the action is set, was swept away for the Olympics, although Baldie Inc occasionally takes people into several of its replacements.

I’d struggle to find a British equivalent of el Vaquilla–a compulsive thief, drug-fiend and murderer raised and then felled by a intoxicated fascination with his own popular image–although Paul Gascoigne and George Best in their own particular field might come close. But it’s difficult to imagine even Gazza cutting off his penis to demonstrate to a fellow inmate his total lack of fear. If your forefathers were Egyptian nobility then perhaps a life of quiet mediocrity isn’t necessarily an automatic first choice.

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  1. Yo el Vaquilla achieved its Robin Hood reputation to a large extent because it showed people with dark hair and brown eyes robbing people with blond hair and blue eyes. It’s a crucial document in the history of Spanish racism towards Northern Europeans which stretches back via Franco’s La Raza to the discovery of nation in the sense of blood and soil and forward to dimwit Nazis like Lula.

  2. Mother superior, were the wronged blonds meant to represent guiris, or was it a (sub?)conscious casting decision to cast blond Spaniards as the victims?

  3. They’re guiris in tourist locations in Castelldefels, Sitges etc but played by locals, if the accents of the couple who have their car stolen on the Garraf coast road are anything to go by. I wouldn’t call Lula a Nazi–I’m told he doesn’t even like Mozart.

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