Well that was a lot of movie. And in fact if I had not made it a point to keep these posts relatively short, I could probably risk ignoring the word count and put all of my thoughts down on this magnificent achievement. Bosnian filmmaker Emir Kusturica’s Time of the Gypsies can only be described with superlatives: stupendous, heartbreaking, beautiful, essential. It is a film that tells a simple tale of a young gypsy man Perhan (Davor Dujmovic) who is trying to make enough money to impress the family of his girlfriend Azra (Sinolicka Trpkova), so that they would allow them to marry. Of course, Kusturica fills his film with many different characters, most notably Perhan’s loving grandmother (Ljubica Adzovic) and the town’s rich benefactor Ahmed (Bora Todorovic), among many others. Most of the roles, except for Ahmed, are played by non-professionals, and yet the performances are so real, they would be getting Oscar consideration if this was an American film.
As the plot goes along, Kusturica injects the simple story with bouts of magical realism – Perhan has the power of telekinesis, his sister Danira (Elvira Sali) can see the ghosts of those who have passed, etc., but these things are treated as part of everyday life. Kusturica wants to tell a story centered around the emotional journey these characters go through, and he succeeds, while having some fun along the way. Most notable is the now famous scene of the gypsy St. George’s Day celebration set to Goran Bregovic’s touching score. It’s a sequence that will stay with the viewer long after the film is over.
To the western viewer this could serve as an enlightening portrayal of gypsy life. When the protagonist Perhan thinks he’s found an honest way to make some money, he quickly finds out that the way Ahmed, who’s taken him under his wing, makes money is through human trafficking, prostitution, and sending beggars in the streets of Milan. ‘Such is the gypsy life’ some knowing reviewers have proclaimed, and it’s to Kusturica’s credit that he simply shows, instead of judges, the film’s subjects. And yet, the film is not homework – it’s as exciting as any Hollywood melodrama, and it’s endlessly creative and beautiful to look at. A-
At this point Kusturica can make a two-minute short film and they’d still show it at the Cannes Film Festival. But he has not reached the heights of Time of the Gypsies since, despite making some great films. After this film came out stateside, he was quickly picked up by Hollywood and made the Johnny Depp starrer Arizona Dream to much acclaim, but he’s always felt more at home making movies in and about European subjects. As far as the actors in the film, most did not go on to become full-timers as the film industry in the region was quickly affected by the Balkan war of the mid 90’s.
Interestingly, the initial cut of the film was 4 hours and 30 minutes, but Kusturica pared it down to 2 hours and 22 minutes for the international release, and I think it was the right decision – the flow of the film is perfect and we get the time to familiarize ourselves with each of the characters and their respective arcs despite the edits he had to make.
I think the film’s legacy is simply the fact that it’s constantly being re-discovered by modern viewers. This is cinema and we should be grateful that it will live on forever.
Next I’ll review the Kevin Costner classic Bull Durham (available on Netflix). See you then!
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