Making over Patriarchs into Matriarchs
The Godfather trilogy is heavily patriarchal. By contrast, Time of the Gypsies , like gypsy culture itself, is strongly matriarchal. Even what could be called the theme song—a haunting gypsy Orthodox hymn to Saint George's Day—is sung by a young woman. The gender implications that radiate from such a makeover of Coppola's crime classics are profound, indeed. Kusturica's opening shot is of an unhappy bride and an unconscious (passed out drunk) groom. The gender pattern is immediately established: women survive and grieve while men pass out, leave, disappear, die.
Almost literally we feel in Kusturica's film that the center of Perhan's universe is his grandmother, Hatidza (played with poignant intensity by a gypsy, Ljubica Adzovic). She is a mountain of a woman who embraces her grandchildren with tears, laughter, advice, strength and who, of course, has a cigarette constantly dangling from her lips. Gypsy life is a kind of impermanent dream-myth, and it is Hatidza who is the mythmaker as well as the possessor of special powers. Perhan's odyssey toward becoming a godfather is set in motion when Hatidza is summoned by the current gypsy godfather, Ahmed (played with Brando-like expressions and gusto by Bora Todorovic, the all-time leading star of Yugoslav cinema) , to save the life of one of his relative's sons. When she does so, Ahmed offers to take on Perhan as an apprentice in the "business" (Perhan does not yet know that it involves selling and exploiting Gypsy children).
Hatidza as healer, mediator between local quarrels, grandmother, substitute mother/father figure, and myth weaver embodies gypsy culture itself. In the "lift high the roof" scene already mentioned, Hatidza comforts a frightened Perhan and his sister by telling them this creation myth: "Once upon a time the Sky and Earth were man and wife. They had five children: Sun, Moon, Fire, Cloud, Water, and between them, they created a fine place for their children. The unruly Sun tried to part the Earth and the Sky, but
failed. The other children tried too but failed. But one day the Wind lunged at them and the Earth was parted from the Sky." Dream, reality, myth, and motherly concern all blend together at such a moment. Kusturica's film grows out of the reality of gypsy life and crime today, but it also embraces the mythic creation of the earth itself. Within the particular narrative of the film, the damage done by a man (the uncle) is handled by Grandma. The pattern continues throughout till we see Perhan's corpse laid out in the same home, with Hatidza mourning and yet carrying on as she must.