Black Cat, White Cat (15)
The society has had a number of films over the last couple of years that have come from central Europe, “The Lives of Others”, an ‘East’ German film was shown earlier in this season and the Hungarian film “Since Otar Left” was a particular favourite of mine last season. The comic universe of tonight’s film is very different but like “Since Otar Left” it shows people, after the collapse of communism, getting back to trading, bartering and haggling with whatever commodities they can get; although even communism probably didn’t stop the gypsies.
Kusturica’s first feature film “Do you remember Dolly Bell?” won the Golden Lion at the 1981 Venice Film Festival. In 1985 his film ‘When Father was away on Business’ won the Palme D’Or at Cannes. It was also nominated for an academy award for best foreign language film. “Black Cat, white Cat” itself won a Silver Lion at Venice. Kusturica is also a guitar player and has performed since 1986 with the No Smoking Orchestra a gypsy techno rock band!
The film is technically of Serbo-Croat origin but it might be better described as a Danube film. The river Danube passing through or forming the border between ten countries including Austria, Slovakia, The Czech Republic, Serbia, Bulgaria and Hungary allows ample opportunity for currency scams, for tax evasion and dodgy deals. Work is a necessary inconvenience for other people. The characters live with their animals, geese, pigeons, dogs, geese, cats, rats, ducks and more geese. And would live their lives as insouciantly if it wasn’t for the money and the guns!
“Black Cat, white Cat” comes from a comic universe. The mise en scene for this chaotically dynamic and inventive people is elaborately ramshackle. Nothing matches so everything stands out. The film makes things, objects funny. From the first scene’s watery meeting with a washing machine to a great sequence at the wedding where the guests’ names are read out as their wedding gift is held up for all to see. As the gypsy Godfather’s son says to a pregnant gypsy supplicant, ‘I don’t get it why is she wearing binoculars and a cheese grater?’
The Serbo-Croat title means “Black female cat, white male cat”.
Emir Kusturica | France/Germany/Federal Republic of Yugoslavia | 1998 | 127 minutes | 15