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.
Director Emir 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.