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Black Cat, White Cat


Year: 1998 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (XWide) 
Certificate: BBFC 15 Cert – Not suitable for under 15s 
Subtitles: It is expected that this film is fully subtitled. 
Directed by Emir Kusturica 
Starring: Bajram Severdžan, Srđan ‘Žika’ Todorović, Zabit Memedov  
An image from Black Cat, White Cat

A film so radical its critical responses made director Emir Kusturica retire, although that didn’t stop him winning Best Director at Venice, Black Cat, White Cat is difficult to categorise. He also went back on his retirement and, later in his career, descended into many a controversy… Black Cat rises above all that with the film’s immense imagination. This is a comedy about a community of gypsies living on the Danube, featuring an absurd romance of star-crossed lovers, double-crossed criminals, and a cohort of strange characters, some huge, some small, each with their own agenda, and some fantastic music. Come find out for yourself just how weirdly wonderful and hilarious Black Cat, White Cat is – presented on a rare 35mm print, so this isn’t an opportunity to be missed.

Daniel Kallin

Winner of Venice’s Silver Lion for Best Director, Black Cat, White Cat was originally begun as a documentary on gypsy musicians used in Kusturica’s previous film, Underground. Kusturica was inspired by the lives of his subjects and turned the documentary into this slapstick romance.

The title ‘Black Cat White Cat’ is a reference to an old Serbian proverb which says something along the lines of ‘good luck will follow bad’. The film follows the adventures of a band of gypsies in a Yugoslav village by the River Danube. Matko Destanov and his dutiful teenage son Zare hustle as best they can in their dive by the Danube in a futile attempt to raise money to pay back the local don, the aged Grga Zarije, after a con deal goes awry. The godfather-like Zarije, who harbours a deep reverence for Casablanca’s Rick Blane, is friendly rivals with Matko’s father Grga Pitic, even though the two men haven’t seen one another in over 20 years. Neither of the ageing dons have any idea of Matko’s financial blunder—or the extremes he has taken to cover up.

Zarije’s disco-obsessed and dope-addled son, Dadan, in his bid to take over, determines that his sister Sujka will unite his family with what he thinks is the Destanov fortune, by marrying her to naive Zare. Tiny, sparrow-like Sujka resists the plan, dreaming instead of finding true love. Zare, meanwhile, is smitten by the local shop girl, exuberant, shrewd Ida, whose loving grandmother isn’t beyond trying to sell her in marriage to Dadan.

But the plot always takes a back seat in Kusturica’s work, and the film is very much typical of his style: surreal, political, and rather, well, noisy. Like Underground, shown by WSC last term, Black Cat White Cat is relentless in its pace as one slightly farcical event leads irresistibly to another. Each shot has been considered, the characters are vibrant, the script lively, and there is a carnival atmosphere throughout. This film is fantastic, if exhausting, to watch. Don’t miss it.

M. Major

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Screenings of this film:

1999/2000 Autumn Term (35mm)
2023/2024 Summer Term (35mm)