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FRIDAY

The conventional wisdom about Emir Kusturica’s rollicking 1998 comedy, Black Cat White Cat, is that it’s apolitical, a romp to cleanse the ideological palate after the Sarajevo-born director’s Underground, a controversial burlesque of Yugoslavian history. Yet both films portray Balkan dreamers, schemers, and factionalists as fundamentally absurd. It’s just that the later movie—previously seen locally only at 1999’s Filmfest DC—compresses the director’s critique of his countrymen into a sort of reverse Romeo and Juliet: Hapless Gypsy hustler Matko finds himself in hock to a more competent gangster, Dadan, and agrees to pay his debt by marrying his son Zare to Dadan’s unwed (for good reason) sister. But Zare loves Ida, a crack shot who works at a run-down Danube resort. The humor is earthy but laced with severity; death is seldom farther away than in Underground’s allegorical war story. The ramshackle riverside locations give the film a sunny openness and provide a cinematic obstacle course for Kusturica’s comic but dazzlingly fluid camera acrobatics. Corpses won’t stay dead, pigs eat cars, and a wedding is enlivened with grenades while jaunty Gypsy music—as well as geese, goats, dogs, and, of course, cats—underscores the circuslike atmosphere. “As I’m getting older and getting more experienced, more and more I agree that film is about your musicality,” says Kusturica, referring both to the movie’s score and his style of editing and camera movement. It would be simplistic, though, to conclude that Black Cat White Cat is all melody and no message. It screens at 7 p.m. Friday, July 27, at the Library of Congress’ Pickford Theater, 101 Independence Ave. SE. Free. (202) 707-5677. (Mark Jenkins)