I'm not sure I've ever seen a movie that was more downright entertaining--more alive--than Emir Kusturica's Black Cat, White Cat, which screens on Sunday, Oct. 8, at 2 p.m. in Room 109 of the UW's Union South. A raucous romp that never lets up, Black Cat, White Cat is Kusturica's response to those who felt that his previous film, Underground, was not only too political but pro-Serbian. Be that as it may, this film is about as political as the "Blue Danube Waltz," which floats by on the soundtrack just long enough to remind us that the muddy stream along which most of the action takes place is, indeed, the Danube. L'il Abner's Dogpatch transported to the former Yugoslavia, Black Cat, White Cat's setting is half the fun--a three-ring circus tent inhabited by Gypsies, tramps and thieves. Squawking geese share the dirt roads with stretch limos commandeered by big-mustachioed thugs. A pig chews away on an abandoned car. And, in what is surely the first time it's ever occurred in a non-stag movie, "the fat lady," before bringing this night at the opera and day at the races to a close, pulls a nail out of a board using only her butt cheeks. That's low-rentertainment! There's a plot involving various swindles and double-crosses and acts of revenge, but it's the swindlers themselves who keep the movie bouncing along. Using mostly nonprofessional Gypsy actors, Kusturica has brought faces back to the big screen--real faces and, in some cases, real ugly faces. Not since Fellini brought his circuses to town has a director lavished such attention on the grotesque. And, instead of composer Nino Rota's high-end clowning, we get something called "Oon-tsa, Oon-tsa," which I will take the liberty of translating as "Oom-pah, Oom-pah." A joyous blend of...whatever, it's like East European mariachi music, goosing the performances, which would be plenty goosey without it.
A barnyard fable that plays like one hell of a garden party, Black Cat, White Cat never has more than one foot on the ground, but that foot is rooted in the earthy vitality of Gypsy culture. Is the movie fair to Gypsies, or does it trade in stereotypes? Hard to say, but everything's so flagrantly over the top that the question barely seems to matter. "I transformed all the dirt going on in the world into a fairy tale," Kusturica has told The New York Times. May this robust fairy tale live happily ever after.