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TIME OF THE GYPSIES (DOM ZA VESANJE) (director/writer: Emir Kusturica; screenwriter: Gordon Mihic; cinematographer: Vilco Filac; editor: Andrija Zafranovic; music: Goran Bregovic; cast: Davor Dujmovic (Perhan), Bora Todorovic (Ahmed), Ljubica Adzovic (Perhan’s Grandmother), Sinolicka Trpkova (Azra), Husnija Hasimovic (Uncle Merdzan), Elvira Sali(Danira), Mirsad Zulic (Zef); Runtime: 136; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Mirza Pasic/Harry Saltzman; Columbia Pictures; 1988-Yugoslavia-in Romany with English subtitles)

“Unusual, moving and original tragic-comedy drama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Director Emir Kusturica (“Underground”/”Life is a Miracle”/”Black Cat White Cat”)chronicles gypsy life in a poor gypsy village in Yugoslavia, in this unusual, moving and original tragic-comedy drama. Non-professional gypsies speak in their native Romany language and play most of the principal roles, giving the messy, surreal and overlong episodic pic, derived from a six-part television series, an alien and disjointed feeling that it wears as a badge of honor but this viewer found disconcerting at times and wished for more professional acting and structure. When looking past the gypsy color (their flighty accordion music, their picturesque homes and their flamboyant garb), it can be viewed as a coming-of-age film about survival for a sensitive lad–a film about his need to overcome obstacles to find his true moral compass and celebrate life as a happy family man.

Goofy looking teen Perhan (Davor Dujmovic), sporting patched spectacles, is a bastard orphan, living with his adoring protective healer grandmother (Ljubica Adzovic), his vulnerable crippled younger sister Danira (Elvira Sali) and granny’s volatile idiot idler sonMerdzan (Husnija Hasimovic) in a gypsy community in Yugoslavia, where he operates the fireplace for their family lime business. The lad falls for pretty teen Azra (Sinolicka Trpkova), but her shrill mom rejects the marriage because Perhan doesn’t have good job prospects for her prize daughter. His only talent is some telekinetic power, where he can make spoons slide up and down a wall. When the village’s richest gypsy, a shady character called Ahmed (Bora Todorovic), nicknamed “The Sheik,”returns from a successful visit to Milan, granny saves the life of his choking son with her healing powers. As a payment, granny gets Ahmed to promise to finance a leg operation for the bedridden Danira in a hospital in Ljubljana. Perhan goes along in Ahmed’s van to look after his frightened sister, leaving granny behind. Forced to break his promise to stay with sis because Ahmed says he needs him in Italy to raise money for the operation, Perhan reluctantly travels with him. The corrupt kingpin gypsy lures the innocent Perhan into his illicit activities, that involve children and young women who are sold into servitude by their families or kidnapped. On the way to Milan, they crowd into the van and travel together stuck in their own dark world and private thoughts. Perhan is seduced into a life of crime that includes begging, thefts and prostitution. The question becomes how he reacts to his new skill sets, and if he can still return to his innocence and marry the girl he loves without betraying the solid values granny gave him.

Kusturica’s film is a compassionate portrait of a much maligned people, outsiders who live by their own laws and conventions. He shows the gypsies at their best and at their worst, and even though they live nomadic lives and don’t belong to one particular land, their loves and hatreds are not that different from others who must experience the pangs of growing up in a world that often doesn’t seem fair. It’s an intriguing film, but is flawed because it pulls in so many directions and so much of its spontaneity seems forced.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”