BLACK CAT, WHITE CAT (Crna macka, beli macor)(director/writer: Emir Kusturica; screenwriter: Gordan Mihic; cinematographers: Thierry Arbogast/Michel Amathieu; editor: Svetolic-Mica Zajc; cast: Bajram Severdzan (Matko Destanov), Florijan Ajdini (Zare Destanov), Salija Ibraimova (Afrodita), Branka Katic (Ida), Srdan Todorovic (Dadan Karambolo), Zabit Memedov (Zarije Destanov), Sabri Sulejman (Grga Pitic), Jasar Destani (Grga Veliki), Adnan Bekir (Grga Mali), Predrag Pepi Lakovic (Priest), Zdena Hurtocakova (Black Obelisk); Runtime: 129; USA Films; 1998-Ger /Fr/ Yugo/ Aus/Greece)
It’s a noisy comedy, with a loud brass band coming in at any time during the film.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Bosnian-born writer/director Emir Kusturica (Time of the Gypsies/Underground) has come up with a robust film with lively music and characters with plenty of energy. It is an excessive screwball comedy with Felliniesque touches, and before the film literally goes in the shit it was able to show some warm romantic moments and garner many laughs from its odd characters. The film is a relentless slapstick comedy depicting the Gypsy community in Slovenia. It revolves around two friendly patriarchal families and a feud with a third Gypsy patriarch, who is disdainfully called a “businessman patriot.” All the patriarchs are thieves, set in their own ways and customs, each trying to either control who their children marry or to control their lives.

Grga Pitic (Sabri Sulejman) is the old-wily patriarch enamored with watching the ending to the “Casablanca” film, which he often views on his video (it could be said, that one of the film’s themes could be about a beautiful friendship formed by a seemingly odd pair). His son, Grga Veliki (Jasar Destani), is the one who wants to marry for love, but his father just wants him to marry anyone before he dies. The other families’ patriarch is Zarije (Zabit), who is the elderly father of the slimy screw up swindler Matko (Bajram). His son is Zare (Florijan), a clean-cut Gypsy boy who has fallen madly in love with a waitress, a real spitfire, Ida (Branka). He can’t have her because his father owes money to the third patriarch, Dadan (Srdan), who wants Zarije’s son to marry his sister, Afrodita (Salija). She is known by the disdainful name of “Ladybird,” and is a midget. She courageously stands up to her brutal brother by saying that she will marry for love only. Her brother Dadan is a cocaine-sniffing womanizer and vulgar disco lover (singing out when high on drugs, “I’m a pitbull”), who plays his part with manic energy.

Grga Pitic, garbage dump owner, and Zarije, cement works owner, are old friends, though they haven’t seen each other in 25 years (these Gypsies move around!). When Matko thinks up a heist of a train carrying diesel fuel, he needs money to finance this hijacking; and, he goes to Grga for help instead of his father. But Matko is double-crossed by his ruthless partner in this venture, Dadan, and subsequently the reason for the forced wedding between Zare and Ladybird to pay off the debt or get killed by Dadan.

The heart of the film is the farcical wedding and the problems that occur which include forcing the bride and groom to wed, hiding the death of the two patriarchs in mounds of ice, and having the bride Ladybird run away from the ceremony disguised as a tree stump. Ladybird falls in love with her dream man, who suddenly appears in the woods as she’s running away. The film comes replete with a happy ending, as noted onscreen by a caption saying just that.

The two cats appear as the onscreen title and are seen constantly crawling in and out of scenes, sometimes contributing in a comical way to what is happening onscreen. The film is sometimes a “Keystone Kops” comedy, like those old Mack Sennett films. But the comedy keeps getting more and more absurd as the story gets out-of-hand, going from hand-grenades blowing up parts of a house, dead men reviving themselves after being packed in ice, and finally dissolves into complete chaos. The film just ran too long, close to two hours, for a story that shouldn’t have been longer than 90-minutes.

The group of Gypsies were mostly nonprofessional actors, colorful characters, with their mouths filled with gold teeth and their faces filled with mischievous grins, and a screen presence that was absurd and defying in logic. Their mannerisms offered a strange and earthy blend of venality. This original film offered the viewer a rare chance to see real Gypsies onscreen.

It’s a noisy comedy, with a loud brass band coming in at any time during the film. It takes suspension of disbelief on the part of the viewer to stick with this one for its complete romp across the Gypsy turf.

The warm moment in the film is the romance between Branka and Florijan, when they vanish in a field of sunflowers. She’s a commanding onscreen presence.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”