Emir Kusturica’s sixth feature takes us on a merry-go-round of madcap mirth.
With its furious energy and exuberant eccentricity Black Cat, White Cat is a frenetic farce, which turns misery and misdemeanours into hilarity and hijinks. Emir Kusturica’s 1998 film introduces us to a vibrant, topsy-turvy world of gypsies, midgets and mobsters, through the seesawing fortunes of a feckless father and his long-suffering son.
Set in eastern Serbia on the banks of the Danube, Black Cat, White Cat focuses on the sweet-natured Zare Destanov (Florijan Ajdini) and his father Matko (Bajram Severdžan), a spectacularly lousy crook. Matko is first seen incompetently bargaining with a sailor over a pair of horns before inadvertently wrestling a knackered fridge into the river. Later it transpires that the pair have been sold water in place of diesel – a substitution that’s verified by a taste test.
When Matko is swindled during a larger scale con he winds up in debt to hedonistic mobster Dadan Karambolo (Srđjan Todorović) who has arranged Matko’s misfortune in order to engineer the marriage of Zare to Dadan’s 'midget' sister, the put-upon Afrodita (Salija Ibraimova), otherwise known as Ladybird. Unfortunately, Zare is in love with another, Ida (Branka Katić), a tempestuous barmaid who we see taking pot shots at local boaters.
Black Cat, White Cat is full of lovely, often hysterically funny touches. When Zare breaks his grandfather Zarije (Zabit Memedov) out of hospital he’s accompanied by a band who provide a soundtrack to his every movement. Aging crook Grga Pitić (Sabri Sulejmani) has a mouth full of the most extraordinary teeth and is obsessed with the culmination of Casablanca. We witness a pig gradually eating its way through a car, and then there’s the near omnipresence of frantic flocks of geese.
Sarajevo-born Emil Kusturica fleetingly quit the movie business after the somewhat hostile reception to his previous feature from 1995 – the remarkable Palme d’Or winning Underground – which was dismissed by some as Serbian propaganda. This film was originally intended to be a documentary on Gypsy music, and marked a return to the subject after 1988’s Time of the Gypsies.
It later evolved into a narrative feature and the end result couldn’t be further from a documentary, with its frequent surreal touches. Co-written by Kusturica and Gordan Mihić, it is in part inspired by the Italian comic book 'Alan Ford' but also shares a love of grotesques with Fellini’s Amarcord in particular.
Black Cat, White Cat is characterised by an appealing mania, cartoonishly awful characters and an authentic, humorously complementary score. It makes comedy out of desperation, dubious deals and double-crossing. It’s a raucous good time that sticks two fingers up at po-faced depictions of poverty and criminality.