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Film Review: Black Cat, White Cat

When Emir Kusturica's last cinematic contribution "Underground" was released it provoked so much controversy in his homeland that he vowed never to make another film again. However "Black Cat, White Cat" sees the welcome return of the Bosnian director. He has however moved away from the political darkness of Underground to bring us a riotous, colourful farce. The film is a frenetically paced web of events which speeds along aided by lots of comedy.

"You laughing at my moustache?"Matko Destanov, played by Severdzan Bajram, is the hapless son of the prodigiously wealthy cement factory owner Zarije. Reluctant to turn to his father for money to finance a train heist, he goes to his father's best friend Grga Pitic (Sabri Sulejman). However, the heist does not come off as planned and he is swindled by his partner in crime, Dadan. When Dadan then demands compensation, Matko is cornered and agrees to allow his son Zare to marry Dadan's pint-sized sister Afrodita, who is nicknamed "Ladybird". Unbeknownst to Matko and Dadan, Zare has fallen for the impetuous Ida, and Ladybird is determined to find her own Mr. Right. What ensues is one comedic mishap after another.

The characters are lively, likeable Gypsies living in a small community by the Danube. Dadan is the local coke-snorting crime boss at the top of this hierarchy, and is "Shaved armpits? I swear by them in this Balkan climate"portrayed as an over-the-top hedonist who provides much of the comedy in the film. With his drug-fuelled partying and penchant for dodgy German techno music, he steals the show. The village itself has an otherworldly feel about it, and the only reminder of the outside world is the occasional passing of a luxury ship complete with dancing revellers. Lively folk music is used constantly throughout, which adds to the pace and animation of the film. This is most evident in the brilliant wedding scene which is the ultimate in dionysian expression. "Black Cat, White Cat" is optimistic and full of light, there is vigour and movement in every part of it. There is huge attention to detail which is evident in a smattering of surreal scenes, including several of a large pig chewing his way through an old Trabant car.

Although the plot is complex due to the large number of people involved, it would be difficult to lose interest. It may be a strange and distant environment but ultimately we can identify with this community. The climax of the film is optimistic and carnivalesque prompting Kusturica to preface the word "End" with "Happy" in the closing credits. The film won three awards at the 1998 Venice Film Festival including best director for Kusturica. Definitely well deserved.

Sinead Gleeson

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