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Black Cat, White Cat (1998)
Three parts surreal slapstick to one part romantic
comedy, Black Cat, White Cat tells the story of two extended gypsy families living
on the Danube River. The patriarchs of the families, Grga Pitic (Sabri Sulejmani) and
Zarije Destanov (Zabit Mehmedovski) are cigar-smoking, hooch-swilling old coots, each with
a few gold teeth left. Their families are involved in gypsy business, which seems to
involve 1) bartering with the Russians who come up the river on trading vessels, and 2)
stealing everything else they can get their hands on. Zarje's son Matko (Barjam Severdzan)
is not only a low-life but he's bad at it. When Matko attempts to steal several oil tanker
cars from a railroad he is double-crossed by Grga's son Dadan (Surdan Todovoric). The
ensuing mayhem involves shrieking gypsies, crooked Yugoslavs, an Uzi wedding, and two dead
grandpas who aren't dead after all. In the end the good guy gets the money, the nail comes
out of the log, and everyone wins and goes home happy.
Kusturica's gypsies don't seem to view the world as other people do. Kusturica, a Bosnian
from Sarajevo, first set out to make a documentary about gypsy music. But the more he
immersed himself in the world of his subjects, the more a new story emerged. As a result Black
Cat, White Cat has not only a convoluted plot and larger-than-life characters, but
beautifully recorded gypsy violin, accordion and guitar music that will have you dancing
in your seats.
Dadan, played by
Ruben-Blades lookalike Todovoric, is over the top and brilliant. He snorts cocaine out of
a crucifix, he juggles hand grenades at the wedding, and eventually does a memorable dive
into a river of...well, it's at the bottom of an outhouse. Also excellent is Grga Vellki
(Jas'ar Destani), a huge-moustached gypsy in a flamenco hat, whose insistence on waiting
to marry until he finds love at first sight finally pays off.
The romantic angle
involves the grandchildren of the two patriarchs. Zarije's grandson Zare is given Grga
Pitic's grand-daughter Afrodita in an arranged marriage, but the two have different
ideas. Zare loves Ida, and Afrodita is about to fall in love with Grga Vellki. The
grandchildren are the only innocents in the movie. We know they will end up together and
we can't wait for it to happen, especially after a lovely, romantic love scene where Zare
and Ida frolic in a field of sunflowers reminiscent of a Sholokhov novel.
In the end the two
families patch up their feuds, and love conquers all, at least for the moment. It would be
wise, however, not to look too carefully at the plot. There are a few holes you could
drive a caravan through. If it doesn't make sense that the two grandfathers could continue
to fake their own deaths even when huge chunks of ice are being applied to their groins,
so be it. If Kusturica
says the singer Black Obelisk has a way
to grab on to that nail with her rear end and yank it out of that log, without removing
that tight skirt, we'll just have to take him at his word.
None of these
questionable details make the slightest difference. Black Cat, White Cat is a
romp, and you either accept it, or you don't. For the most part we did, and happily.