Nationality: Yugoslavian (Bosnia-Herzegovina). Born: Sarajevo, Yugoslavia (Bosnia-Herzegovina), 24 November 1955. Education: Studied film direction at FAMU (Prague Film School) in Czechoslovakia. Career: Produced amateur films while attending secondary school; moved to Czechoslovakia to study film, 1973; directed Guernica , his diploma film, 1978; directed two television films and played guitar in a rock band, late 1970s; directed first feature, Do You Remember Dolly Bell? , 1981; earned international acclaim with When Father Was away on Business , 1985; came to the United States and began teaching a film directing course at Columbia University,
Guernica ; Nevjeste dolaze ( The Brides Are Coming ) (for TV)
Bife Titanic ( The Titanic Bar ) (for TV) (+ sc)
Sjecas li se Dolly Bell? ( Do You Remember Dolly Bell? )
Otac na sluzbenoh putu ( When Father Was away on Business )
Dom za vesanje ( Time of the Gypsies ) (+ co-sc)
Underground (+ co-sc, ro)
Crna macka, beli macor ( Black Cat, White Cat ) (+ co-sc)
The White Hotel
13.jul (Saranovic) (uncredited ro)
Strategija svrake ( The Magpie Strategy ) (Lavanic) (sc); Zivot Radina (sc)
La Veuve de Saint-Pierre (Leconte) (ro)
Interview with P. Elhem in Visions (Brussels), Summer 1985.
Interview with L. Codelli in Positif (Paris), October 1985.
"Emir Kusturica," interview with M. Martin and D. Parra, in La Revue du Cinéma (Paris), October 1985.
"Winner from the Balkans," interview with Henry Kamm, in New York Times , 24 November 1985.
Interview with A. Crespi in Cineforum (Bergamo), June 1989.
Interview with M. Ciment and L. Codelli in Positif (Paris), Novem-ber 1989.
Interview with I. Katsahnias in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), Novem-ber 1989.
"Time for Kusturica," interview with Arlene Pachasa, in American Film (New York), August 1990.
Interview with T. Jousse and V. Ostria in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), May 1992.
"A Bosnian Movie Maker Laments the Death of the Yugoslav Nation," interview with David Binder, in New York Times , 25 October 1992.
"A Marriage of Inconvenience," interview with Patrick McGavin, in Filmmaker (Los Angeles), February 1999.
McCarthy, Todd, "Yugo Director Kusturica Planning 'Spirit-Wres-tlers,"' Variety (New York), 2 October 1985.
Downey, M., article in Chaplin (Stockholm), vol. 28, no. 1, 1986.
Horton, Andrew, "The New Serbo-Creationism," American Film (Washington, D.C.), January/February 1986.
Cade, Michel, article in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), March 1987.
Report on retrospective at Montpellier Film Festival, in Cinéma (Paris), October 1989.
Katsahnias, I., article in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), June 1989.
Gili, J. A., article in Positif (Paris), November 1989.
Ahlund, J., "Emir Kusturica: regissor med hog kroppstemperatur," Chaplin (Stockholm), vol. 32, no. 5, 1990.
Insdorf, Annette, article in New York Times , 4 February 1990.
Jousse, T., and V. Ostria, article in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), May 1991.
Williams, Michael, and Deborah Young, "Iron Curtain Alums Test West's Mettle," Variety (New York), 29 June 1992.
Maslin, Janet, "Two Films on Strife in Balkans Win Top Prizes at Cannes," New York Times , 29 May 1995.
Turan, Kenneth, "A Requiem for Yugoslavia Takes Cannes Prize," Los Angeles Times , 29 May 1995.
Klady, Leonard, and Todd McCarthy, " Underground Mines Cannes D'or," Variety (New York), 5 June 1995.
Hoberman, J., "Of Cats and a Keg," in Premiere (New York), June 1999.
* * *
Emir Kusturica's films radiate a universal humanism. While they come out of a specific part of the world—in which the political situation plays no small role in affecting his characters' lives—they are timeless stories in that they deal with basic human needs, desires, feelings, and experiences.
Do You Remember Dolly Bell? , Kusturica's first feature, is an insightful, bittersweet comedy about Dino (Slavko Stimac), an adolescent who goes about losing his virginity and experiencing first love. There may be political and social implications within the story: Dino's father is a Muslim-Marxist who fervently believes in a communist utopia even though he and his family reside in one crowded room; and the scenario is rife with jabs at Communist Party bureaucracy. During the course of the story Dino's father dies, which symbolically mirrors Kusturica's conviction that the failure of communism to improve peoples' lives is irrevocable. Still, the film mainly is a coming-of-age comedy not dissimilar to scores of other cinematic rite-of-passage chronicles. Undoubtedly, its gently ironic style was influenced by Kusturica's having attended the Prague Film School, where he studied with Jiri Menzel.
Kusturica was to emerge as a force on the international film scene with his next feature, When Father Was away on Business , which won him a Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or. It is the fresh, winning account of what happens when a philandering, indiscreet Yugoslavian man, Mesha Malkoc (Miki Manojlovic), is sent into exile for three years, with the scenario unraveling through the eyes and perceptions of Malik (Moreno D'E Bartolli), his six-year-old son. Politics and history impact on the story, which is set in the early 1950s after Marshal Tito, Yugoslavia's ruler, had split with Stalin. This resulted in the country's expulsion from the Soviet Socialist Bloc. In Yugoslavia, individual loyalties were harshly divided between Tito and Stalin, leading to mass denunciations and betrayals that often had nothing to do with political leanings. Such is the case with the father in When Father Was away on Business. The spitefulness of one of Mesha's girlfriends, along with that of his brother-in-law, results in his arrest during a family party. But all Malik knows is that his father has been whisked away from the family, and his mother is left to struggle along as a seamstress in order to feed and clothe her children.
The scenario eventually takes Malik and his family to the salt mine where Mesha is being held. The camp is filled with prisoners who, like Mesha, have been incarcerated for reasons having nothing to do with political ideology. There, Malik also comes of age, but in an altogether different manner than depicted in Do You Remember Dolly Bell? Primarily, his maturation results from his interaction with an incurably ill young girl. When Father Was away on Business is a major work, one of the finest films of the 1980s.
Kusturica's next feature, Time of the Gypsies , is another comingof-age story as well as a flavorful account of gypsy life. It tells of an innocent young boy (Davor Dujmovic) who wishes to make a better life for himself, but finds he can only accomplish this by becoming involved in a criminal lifestyle. In telling his story, Kusturica offers a bitter condemnation of a society's exploitation of children. Arizona Dream , Kusturica's first American film, was a major disappointment. It features Johnny Depp as a recently orphaned young man who returns to his Arizona hometown for the wedding of his uncle (Jerry Lewis). The movie only received a limited theatrical distribution in the United States.
The civil war that had bitterly divided his homeland was bound to influence Kusturica's work. In 1995 he won a second Cannes Palme d'Or for Underground , a French-German-Hungarian-produced allegorical epic of Yugoslavia between 1941 and 1992. As he charts the camaraderie and conflict between two Belgrade men, Marko and Blacky (Miki Manojlovic, Lazar Ristovski), Kusturica bitterly censures the postwar communist domination of his homeland and the bloody present-day civil war in which, in his view, all sides are culpable.
Underground was one of an increasing number of humanistoriented films that focused on the politics and tragedy of the war. Joining it were Srdjan Dragojevic's Pretty Village, Pretty Flame (the story of a Serb and Muslim who once were childhood friends but now are adversaries in battle) and Michael Winterbottom's Welcome to Sarajevo (a reverie on the random brutality of the war, and the manner in which violent conflicts are covered by the media). All three are sobering, heartbreaking films that serve as formidable reminders of what the war in Bosnia was—and of what any war is.
However, Underground was the object of much contention in France, where leftists alleged that it was, at its core, pro-Serbian. And so, in his follow-up feature, Black Cat, White Cat , Kusturica eschewed in-your-face politics in favor of a spirited romp that, like Time of the Gypsies , offers a vivid portrait of gypsy life. The film spotlights two clans whose members become entangled in a frenetic scenario involving love and arranged marriages, family responsibilities, and conspiracies and double-dealing.
Given Kusturica's predilection for examining regional politics, one might see within this tale of feuding families a parable that reflects on the greater conflict in his homeland. The film concludes with the title "Happy End," which also may be viewed as the filmmaker's wish for the resolution of that conflict.