Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Black Cat, White Cat

By Marjorie Baumgarten

OCTOBER 18, 1999: 

D: Emir Kusturica; with Bajram Severdzan, Florijan Ajdini, Jas'ar Destani, Adnan Bekir, Branka Katic, Zabit Mehmedovski, Sabri Sulejmani, Srdan Todorovic. (R, 129 min.)

Black Cat, White Cat marks a decided change in tone for Bosnian-born filmmaker Emir Kusturica since his previous film Underground (1995). That epic movie was a magnificent panorama that examined the convoluted modern history of the Balkans through the eyes of fiction and decades-long narrative structure. Despite winning the Palme d'Or at Cannes, the film was subjected to some very malignant political criticism, the details of which were largely lost on these shores. But the reproaches were enough to make Kusturica swear never to make another film. Fortunately, the multi-award-winning director (When Father Was Away on Business, Time of the Gypsies) has broken his vow; Black Cat, White Cat is the result. With this film, Kusturica has forsaken the cultural lyricism of his past work in favor of more farcical mayhem. A convoluted plot that's easy to follow but hard to describe amid all its various strands plops the fortunes and foibles of two local families into the same stew and turns their narrative juices into one big goulash. Ramshackle poverty mingles with black-market riches, coke whores stand side-by-side with lovers pierced by Cupid's bow, war heroes interact with dissolute young layabouts, very tall men fall for very short women, and, yes, a black cat keeps company with a white cat. The film bursts with activity and plot twists that heighten the viewers' senses in an effort to drink it all in. Kusturica's portrait of Gypsy life along the Danube often devolves into broad humor and excessively antic behaviors that may prove too much for all sensibilities, but there is also a more cerebral Billy Wilderesque comic tone at work. Black Cat, White Cat is not an example of Kusturica working at his most artful level, but it sure is nice to see that the director maybe has nine lives.

3 Stars

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