Article by Laura Moldovan | Translation by Samuel Mago
The series „Romani Voices“ is giving people of the Roma community the opportunity to publish their opinions. The following text was written by Laura Moldovan. It is not a film review. It does not question the ability of Kusturica as a director. This text describes the perception of Laura Moldovan. It is her analysis of the „gypsies“ that Kusturica shows in his films and an analysis of what these constructed „gypsies“ and their caricatured world do with the perceptions of those who see these award-winning and highly acclaimed films.
The text is divided into 4 parts: an intro and 3 individual texts for different movies.
You are here: Part 1 Intro: Emir Kusturica and his „Gypsies“
More information and Emir Kusturica´s biographie here
Part 1: INTRO
Emir Kusturica and his “Gypsies “
by Laura Moldovan
He is probably the best-known filmmaker in the word of the Roma people. Hardly any name is as linked to the cinematography of the Roma as the name of this Gadjo. The admirers of his work are convinced that his movies are introducing them to the real life of the Roma. It almost feels as if they had spent their childhood with the main characters of “Black Cat, White Cat”. Even the Roma themselves seem to identify themselves with his movies.
Only at second glance the cat jumps out of the bag: The work of Emir Kusturica is merely the stereotypical representation of what is known by the majority of the people as “Gypsies”. And Antigypsyism becomes a box office bomb.
Black benefactor, white liar
Kusturica is a very intelligent person. He is consciously twisting the facts as he pleases:
„The Gypsies of my film survive like insects, according to the principle of the natural selection, according to the beauty of the colours and the shapes of the wings.„
he says in 1999 in an interview published in the German Novo Magazine, 1999. He is calling us „insects“ thereby using the rhetoric of the Nazis, but immediately continues to aestheticize the sentence with beautiful words. So – Gypsies are insects, parasites. But they are also beautiful insects, right?
In 2002, Emir Kusturica was named Goodwill-Ambassador by UNICEF. „I wanted to help the kids as much as I can“ he said in an interview with www.zmag.org. The fact that he is actually putting the future of the young Roma generation at stake with his films by portraying them as parasites of the lowest stratum of society obviously doesn’t matter.
“I was raised in a middle-class family close to the place where the Gypsies lived [in Sarajevo], and I was always enthusiastic about their freedom, the way they accepted life, their direct connection to joy, and their strength and optimism. Gypsies have a very bad position in society because every middle-class mother-fucker likes to have somebody beneath him. If you go to the district in Skopje in Macedonia where the Gypsies live, you’ll find a lot of people who hate them and who want nothing more than to be one step above them”
said Kusturica in an interview with Graham Fuller (1999).
The Time of Stereotypes
The so-called „freedom“ of the Roma is vehemently demanded in „Time of the Gypsies“ (1989) by a mad and stubborn protagonist right at the beginning of the film. The general feeling arises that the Roma are just not normal and submissive and do not want to integrate themselves into society.
The „direct connection to joy“ of the Roma is also portrayed in „Blue Gipsy“ (2005), as a manipulation tool using this „joie de vivre“ to pick people’s pockets. See Youtube Video:
The shown scene gives the public the impression that one should not be misled by „happy Roma“. Music, dance and joy – the only positive features attributed to the Roma – are shown negatively by Kusturica in this context.
„Black Cat, White Cat“ (1998) clearly shows that for Kusturica this „freedom“ and „joy of life“ means nothing but insolence and a primitive attitude towards life. Like in the scene in which a young man picks up his grandfather from the hospital alongside a marching band.
A popular theme in his work are Roma, who survive like insects. Despite this recurring image, Kusturica’s films are without a trace of the Roma genocide. We can see symbols for this in scenes such as the one from “Time of the Gypsies“, which shows a floating house.
The two old men from „Black Cat, White Cat“, (Spoiler alert!) who rise from death at the end of the movie are also marked by this symbolism. This subject of survival is proposing a question to the audience:
„Why don’t they just die?“. However, replacing the question mark at the end of this question with the desire to wipe out the Roma.
Satire as a cover for racism
Kusturica uses the art of filmmaking to live out his personal racist ideas safely kept under the cover of satire. Every detail has a meaning and there is symbolism behind every punch line.
Because we have no state of our own, no political representation, and few instances working to protect the rights of the Roma, Kusturica allows himself to denigrate and vilify the Roma in his films.
There is a hidden hatred against Roma manifesting behind his rhetoric and the symbolism of his films, downright Antigypsyism.
Kursturica’s work is generalizing. Negative characteristics and events – such as child trafficking, arranged marriages, forced marriages, begging, drugs, violence, theft, smuggling, corruption and gambling – are attributed to the Roma and made into their origin. Traditions and customs of the Roma on the other hand are mocked and exaggerated. The characters are not particularly attractive: we often see characters with golden teeth, hats and mustaches. Their clothes are cheesy and tasteless, their names are foreign and strange.
His main characters are often antagonists with human features. Even if they initially win the hearts of viewers with their „non-gypsy“ features, eventually it’s always pointed out that the exception only confirms the rule.
It is striking that the „gypsies“ in Kusturica’s films always live in isolation, in their own way, excluded from society. Contact with non-Roma is rare. If they do meet non-Roma, it is people who practice professions that are forbidden for the Roma in this made-up world: priests, mayors, doctors, nurses.
After all, if he had portrayed a Roma man integrated in society pursuing one of those professions, his image of a criminal, lazy and primitive people would not have been able to hold up cinematically.
From Idol to Idiot
Kusturica meets Coppola | Source: kustu.com
Emir Kusturica was a big admirer of Francis Ford Coppola, which evidently shows in his work. At a personal meeting with the filmmaker at the Cannes Film Festival on May 11, 1997, Kusturica and Coppola finally met. Only then Kusturica realized that Coppola had never heard about him and his films. This obviously hurt him deeply, as this quote shows:
„I do everything not to become like Coppola,“
he stated afterwards in an interview with the French journal L’Evénement du Jeudi (2000). This statement tells a lot about Kusturica. He always overestimates his fame. „I’m not saying that I’m a genius, but …“ In any confrontation with the criticism, Kusturica is embarrassed and offended.
„He did not want to recognize me, I think. I was astonished that he had never heard about a single of my films „,
he says. Like this, even his former idol turns into an enemy because he does not receive the recognition and glory he attributes to himself.
„I’ve liked Coppola before. Today, Coppola does business. He has no time to be a director. He must be very unhappy. I’m recognized, which brings great advantages when you need to find funding for a new movie. I expose myself each minute of my life. I make the actor. I play music. Because I don’t want to be Coppola! With his fat belly, he couldn’t play rock.“,
he says in L’Evénement du Jeudi (2000).
Kusturica’s work on Roma has received several awards. The work of a non-Roma who earned his money on the back of my people and abused the Roma for his own recognition and prestige. Regardless of his acquired wealth, it is painful and severe how he has built a successful career by defaming the Roma over time.
As the most popular international director for movies about Roma, he has laid the foundation for many of today’s prejudices. I am convinced that Kusturica’s films have significantly contributed to creating the negative image of our minority in the minds his viewers, and thus greatly increased xenophobia and Antigypsyism. Kusturica is a wanderer, just like the fictional fairytale-gypsies in his films.
„I am a man without a country, traveling between Paris and New York and Belgrade and Montenegro. My roots are in Herzegovina, but I don’t care about nationality. „,
he says in the interview with Graham Fuller. According to this logic, he should actually be empathetic towards his Gypsies, right?
Why does Emir Kusturica hate the Roma so much then? Maybe he has even answered this question himself:
„Because every middle-class motherfucker wants to have someone beneath him.“
Further artikels releated to Emir Kusturica:
You are here: Part 1 Intro: Emir Kusturica and his „Gypsies“