The Yugoslav Film Connection
Coppola managed to stamp a decidedly Italian American mark on one of Hollywood's most popular genres. Kusturica, however, announces himself as both an heir to Yugoslav filmmaking—ironically only a few years before such a label no longer had meaning for a country and an industry deconstructed by strife, war, and rebellion—and also to world cinema. Within this tradition, Kusturica's homages are numerous. For the title and subject matter of the film—gypsies—the filmmaker is indebted to Alexander Petrovic's I Have Even Met Happy Gypsies (1967), the film voted the best Yugoslav film ever by a hundred critics in the 1980s and winner of the Best Film award at Cannes in 1967. Kusturica owes much of his tone and atmosphere—emotional and locational—to Petrovic's pioneering tale of the rough life of Yugoslav gypsies in their ambiguous relationship, at the time, to a communist-socialist state.
Among the twenty or so other Yugoslav films alluded to in The Time of the Gypsies , one feels Kusturica has most clearly nodded to Zivojn Pavlovic's When I Was Dead and White (1967), which was co-written by Kusturica's screenwriter, Goran Mihic. In that film, for instance, the main character is shot to death in an outhouse with his pants down, much as the godfather's assistant is gunned down by Perhan in Gypsies .
There is also Goran Paskalovic's Guardian Angel (1987) which treated the same story as Kusturica's film but two years earlier: the true story (widely reported in the press and on television) of Yugoslav gypsy children being sold into slavery. Also incorporated, directly this time, is Rajko Grlic's The Melody Haunts My Memory , a clip of which is shown in the film (see below). And the use of magic realism to express the reality of those who have died echoes a similar use of the technique in other Yugoslav films, most clearly in Srdjan Karanovic's Petria's Wreath (1980).
All of these Yugoslav film allusions are lost, of course, on viewers not familiar with Yugoslav cinema, which is to say most world viewers. But that is not the point. What is significant is that within the context of world cinema, Kusturica's text suggests how a film can embrace multiple connotations aimed at a variety of audiences. David Bordwell speaks about the "degree of communicativeness" in a film narrative (59) and notes that such a degree can be judged "by considering how willingly the narration shares the information to which its degree of knowledge entitles it." By making over many of the elements of two Hollywood films—Coppola's texts—Kusturica's film provides an overall wide degree of communicativeness or access to his Yugoslav story. But in his allusions to Yugoslav cinema, he has purposely built in a "home culture" element that speaks to those who know, without detracting from the pleasure and involvement the film has set up for the non-Yugoslav audiences. We are aware that such narrative layering is common in many forms. For example, Groucho Marx's asides are missed by many and a great pleasure to those who "get" them, but the existence of the asides themselves does not detract from the overall impact of a Marx brothers' comedy. Similarly, but on the level of cross-cultural, cross-cinematic tradition, Kusturica's border crossings speak to multiple audiences simultaneously.