»Grga Pitić is as elegant as a vampire. He has two rows of teeth! — one real, and one golden.«
Black Cat White Cat is a film directed by Emir Kusturica, written by Emir Kusturica and full of music played by »the famous traveling band of Emir Kusturica«; it is, in short, a film extremely by Emir Kusturica. It's the story of the son of a small-time Gypsy crook living in Serbia, on the Bulgarian border, who gets into a Romantic Entanglement of a tolerably hoary type (concerning which, more later).
But that's not important. That doesn't tell you anything about what kind of a movie it is. Here's what kind of a movie it is: Large Grga's romantic nature is matched in grandeur only by his moustache. A Balkan John O'Reilly throws his sister in a well on account of her intractability. At one point an entire band tied to a tree passes by in the background, uncommented. Grga Pitić is obsessed with Casablanca, but only the ending. A pig eats an entire Trabant. A man wipes himself off with geese.
»What did the doctor say?«
»He says if you don't give me hell, I'll live to be a hundred!«
»Burned out! It's no good.«
Zare and his father Matko live on the bank of the river Donau, which I still can't quite bring myself to call Danube just like that; the environment around them looks like most of Europe did in the '20s with incongruous intrusions of the decades since, which I suspect of being an unfortunately plausible depiction of the Balkans rather than a scenographer's conceit. Matko's life seems to consist mostly of Rube Goldberg machines and getting ripped off; Zare's, of pursuing Ida, girl of his fairly limited dreams (otherwise confined to »owning a truck«), and vexation with his father's lies, failures, and mishaps. But Matko has a fantastic, can't-fail scheme to get rich, quick: all he needs is some money from the mob kingpin Grga Pitić, and some help from the incredibly crooked gangster Dadan, whose own greatest woe is his failure to marry off his »meter and a Gillette blade« tall sister, Bubamara. Nothing could go wrong! Right? Of course it does. It goes two hours' worth of wrong. Look grateful.
»You'll be punished for this! You'll do your military service in a zoo!«
While it's extremely common for romantic comedies to pilfer bits of business shamelessly from Commedia dell'Arte, Black Cat White Cat bears a stronger resemblance to an actual Commedia play: it concerns absurdly complex twists around a romance, it paints a humanity of near-ubiquitous character flaws, trickery and guile are required to resolve problems — and the main characters are boring enablers of a gallery of fantastic, colorful weirdoes. If you watch this movie and care about the principals more than the supporting cast, I'm not sure you count as human by my standards.
The film's long ancestry doesn't mean, however, that you've ever seen anything like it. On the contrary, the fact that the foundations of the film are five or six hundred years old only goes to show the vitality of those principles, the strong fiber of a grand tradition which Shakespeare and Molière trimmed down, rather than developed, in adapting it. This is the full expression of the rich wellspring that gave us artifacts as diverse as Mr. Punch, the Marx Brothers, The Barber of Seville, the Italian masks, the English pantomime; this all sounds pompous, but what it comes down to is this: it's funny as hell.
»Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.«
You're god-damn right it is.