Interview in German magazine Novo (March-April 1999)

  • Mr Kusturica, recently, writer Peter Handke said about your film Black Cat, White Cat that it was a very beautiful film, finally a very beautiful film among so much of pseudo serious and mannered films. How do you see your film today, when it reaches the theatres ?
    • Emir Kusturica : Handke was right, in the way his reaction corresponds to my desire. I had the need to make a film which is therapeutic, and not which evokes the past. In no case, I wanted to make a film which reduces the hopes of men to a cheap and stupid level, as it is often the case of Hollywood films. I was attracted by the beauty of alternate universes. 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. I wish that men, in my films, survive without weapons, middle-age fortress, all the equipment of the destruction. It is almost about a naive glance on the world, like a glance between a black cat and a white cat. Admittedly, the emotional dimension of the film must sometimes appear kitsch. Nevertheless, it mattered me that this kitsch translates the joy in life to the world in periphery. It does not mean mannerism.
  • Where do your interest for the world of Gypsies come from ?
    • EK : I always sought the ethnic bases of my creative work. The modern world is dehumanized more and more because of the electronic media. I wanted to put some distance with this tendency. With this intention, I was interested in the world of the Gypsies, in whom I found humanism and engagement.
  • You also worked in the United States, the source of the modern genre. The film Black Cat, White Cat, is it an anti-genre film ?
    • EK : The genre can be a deception. We are surrounded by lies. My film Underground concentrates itself on the problem of general trickery. The crisis of Kosovo shows at which point the history can prove to be an imposture. The historical truth is unrecognisable. My oeuvre is not a genre film according to the American diktat. The genre is former to American films. I do not wish that my film confirm simply the human silly thing. A good genre film must sharpen the capacity to perceive the world in various ways. If not, the genre stops. The silly thing cannot merge with the genre. It sometimes happens to me to think that the cinema evolves in an extremely negative way. My film Black Cat, White Cat can be regarded as an anti-genre film in the direction where it wants to warm the heart of men. Certain contemporary American films gets an icy effect. Moreover, the American film is not limited to what comes from Hollywood. There exists in the United States a space where the creativity is allowed. I personally see myself in this intermediate space.
  • What do you expect concerning the German reception of your new film ?
    • EK : I think the film will be appreciated by the German public like by criticism. My film wants to be cordial. In Germany also, one feels a general lack of heat. I expect positive reactions, even if German criticism is severe.
  • Don't criticisms play a role nowadays sometimes too moraliser ? A contemporary critic can make the effect of a “ethical cleaner” which does not show any interest with the specific joyful aspect to art.
    • EK : In my case, criticism always plays an extremely significant role. I was always a favourite of the critic and the jury of Cannes, Venice and Berlin. In the director's aesthetics, my films constitute a footbridge between the tradition and modernity. I think nevertheless that the witnesses will be capable to recognize, with regard to this film but also with regard to my next films - provided that I do not shoot bad films - what it is not a question of a film subjected to the aesthetics of televised films, which are 90 percent of films today. Criticism is extremely significant to transmit to the public criteria. The critic does not have nevertheless an easy role in the direction where televised aesthetic has dominating role in the production and the reception of a film today. Today, times are hardly favourable to the cinematographic art. I would wish to play a role of mediator between the old one and the new one. I fight today for the survival of what brought the traditional films. My films, which are limited to Balkans, want to be thus merry and tragic, vital and impulsive.
  • Your films were judged negatively by part of criticism.
    • EK : I felt myself extremely bad, after Underground. I couldn't understand that this film, which fights against any type of propaganda, can be judged like a propaganda film. I felt taken between two fires by some criticize, which taxed my film as very moraliser. I understand however that it is not always easy for criticisms to penetrate all dimensions, because we currently live difficult times. Our life is almost virtual. We don't know always what is reality and what is fiction.
  • How, face to a negative reaction, an artist can avoid reacting in his films becoming himself bad ?
    • EK : If one devotes himself in a consequent way to his work, diversions are not concerned. An artist who is faithful to himself does not let cause and search a counterpart in the register of spite. I think being extremely distant from these daily politico-hysterical games. For me, the values are hidden more deeply in the human nature, education, his own history - in the childhood which constitutes the source of our later evolution. I am not a bad man. I am also not a craftsman who sells his art with the devil.
  • You live abroad. How do you preserve your identity ?
    • EK : I always believe in my feelings. I can also control them. I sometimes think that we live today in a world in loss of feelings. The emotions are replaced by aggressiveness and neuroses. My artistic program consists in working on emotions.
  • Did you ever imagine to live such an aggressive evolution in Balkans ?
    • EK : No ! Never would I have imagined such a bloody evolution ! Today, I think that we arrived there because all the processes began in Balkans, but were never closed. They were always stopped and prohibited. Even the existence as a nation could not be lived in an integral way in time and space. These suddenly stopped processes begin again then in an imminent and aggressive way. Many forgets today easily the errors of the last regime. The current crimes come in direct line from Titoism time. I did not know about trickeries which were accomplished with much refinement of the time of Tito.
  • Does there exist a key character in the history of Balkans, from who you feel yourselves close ?
    • EK : Yes, writer Ivo Andrić. No matter we are extremely different - whereas Andrić is an epic writer, I am myself a lyric storyteller - we are nevertheless extremely close. I try to understand the events of Balkans starting from the opus of this great writer. One cannot understand Balkans without Andrić today. Andrić is somebody who deforms neither the history nor the philosophical context of Balkans. He was a wise man, and moreover, he is an international south Slavic : a Croat, who grows in Bosnia and lived in Belgrade. It is only possible to understand the current realities of Balkans starting from such an international identity. A moving point of view is required. We must feel a parallax to really be able to feel the universe of Balkans.

Interview by Zarko Radakovic, translated from German to French by Martine Haas, and from French to English by Matthieu Dhennin.

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