Black Cat, White Cat (1998)

Kusturica’s Venice Silver Lion winner is as raucous a cinematic affair as any—its infectious energy doesn’t drop one bit as a bizarre story of small-time gangsters, poor gypsies and arranged marriages play out in a Serbian village along the Danube River.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,492

Dir. Emir Kusturica
1998 | Yugoslavia | Comedy/Crime/Romance | 124 min | 1.85:1 | Serbian, Bulgarian & Romany
Not rated – likely to be M18 for strong language, drug use and some violence

Cast: Bajram Severdzan, Srdjan Todorovic, Branka Katic, Florijan Ajdini, Ljubica Adzovic
Small-time grifter Matko finds himself deeply in debt to local gangster Dadan. They strike a deal: Matko offers up his own son to marry Dadan’s sister Ladybird. But none of the two care much for an arranged marriage: Zare is in love with Ida, Ladybird is waiting for the man of her dreams.
Won Silver Lion (Venice)
International Sales: MK2

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Arranged Marriage; Small Town Madness
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

This is my first ever Emir Kusturica film and I enjoyed it, which is a tad unexpected as the film has been described by many as ‘Fellini-esque’, a term that sometimes puts me off as it could go either way for me. 

There is something about Black Cat, White Cat that eases my fear that it might be annoying or too full of itself.  Perhaps it is the bravura of Kusturica’s filmmaking, where he turns a story made up of eccentric characters living in a Serbian village along the Danube River into an extraordinary farce. 

We have small-time gangsters who don’t observe the law of the land, and poor gypsies hoping to clear their debts or leave for greener pastures.  The weak appear to be stuck in a stagnant existence, and worst, exploited as power is wielded through the threat of violence. 

“If you can’t solve a problem with dough, solve it with a lot of dough.”

An arranged marriage between two parties who have no affinity for each other drives the plot, as Kusturica delivers one breathless scene after another. 

The film’s infectious energy doesn’t drop one bit, and in fact, the whole affair becomes even more raucous as an extended wedding sequence plays out for much of the latter half of the film. 

A follow-up to Kusturica’s Cannes Palme d’Or-winner Underground (1995), Black Cat, White Cat won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival, further cementing the director’s reputation as one of the great filmmakers from the Balkan region. 

He makes the bizarre entertaining, and at the end of it all, we are led to feel that every major character deserves his or her comeuppance.  

Grade: A-



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