Movies You Should Have Seen: Time Of The Gypsies

Should you ever, by chance, find yourself on a party with a lot of attendance by people from the Balkans, a sure way to get everyone almost breaking into tears, is playing the title song Ederlezi composed by Goran Bregović from the movie Time Of The Gypsies by Emir Kusturica from 1988.

But be careful how you apply this little magic power that I just shared with you though, because emotions may be boiling. And a little bit of magic is what this movie is about:
Time Of The Gypsies is a movie about the boy Perhan (played by Davor Dujmovic) who lives with his little sister Danira (Elvira Sali), his wise grandmother Khaditza (Ljubica Adzovic) and his no-good uncle Merdzan (Husnija Hasimovic) in a small and poor Yugoslavian village predominantly inhabited by Romani people. Perhan possesses telekinetic powers or what his grandmother refers to 'only a little talent', as she is the sought out magician of the community who is called upon when one them lies down ill.

The narrative is a sort of classical boy-to-man story going wrong, that begins like a fairy tale but ends in disaster. In the tradition of great European filmmakers like Federico Fellini, Emir Kusturica uses magical realism to create beautiful dreamlike sequences. On a deeper level, the magical realism serves to create emotional contrast of Perhan's situation: poor, illiterate, without opportunities, his only safe haven is his family and the magic they share, while outside in the harsh world, reality awaits to take its toll on the dreamers.

From left to right: Uncle Merdzan, Danira, Khaditza and Perhan, the main protagonist.
The clash between the magical inner world of the family and its members who serve each other as pillars and whose integrity gets torn apart by the wants and necessities of the real outside world. Perhan's story goes wrong, when his grandmother obliges him to take care of his sister while they travel to a hospital in Ljubljana for her treatment and he allows himself to be separated and follow the allure of money and power, personified by Ahmed (Bora Todorovic) the local 'Sheik'. Ahmed is a mobster who collects children in the remote villages of the Balkans and then puts them to work as beggars, prostitutes or street performers in the streets of Milan in Italy.

Perhan, Khaditza and Danira gather with Perhan's turkey which becomes a sort of companion and spirit animal for him.
After learning the ins-and-outs of the street trade, Perhan himself becomes a head of the little crime family in Italy. Having forgotten his obligation and putting aside his little sister, he has chosen the wrong path, serving as a form of negative exemplary figure, an if-what play from the innocent beginnings of the young man, but at the same time a call to the dire reality many Romani find themselves in. Still he is haunted by dreams of his grandmother and his home, revealing a remaining magical connection to his family sanctum and the possibility to turn around and make good.

The film ends in tragedy and I do not want to give too much away. I wholeheartedly recommend this movie to you. It is not the most well done movie technically, nor are the actors the most professional and the editing sometimes lack precision. But this movie is what comes to my mind, when Pier Paolo Pasolini talks about the disappearance of the glowing worms: there lies a power under the unpolished edges of this movie, in the way he transforms little humane acts and situations into something that is of greater importance and allows the viewer to glimpse into corners of our shared world, that we often miss or which remain inaccessible.

Grandmother Kadhitza appears in one of Perhan's magical dreams.
By the way: most of the dialogues are in Romani, a language you very rarely, if at all, heard in the movies. Please treat yourself to the original with subtitles to enjoy the full richness of the film.

Now back to the music: the title song Ederlezi is song by the Romani which got its name from the Spring festival celebrated on May 6th. Aside from the Romani and the Serbo-Croatian versions of the song, the film's composer Emir Kusturica also recorded it in various other languages from the Balkans, most notably in Greek with Alkistis Protopsalti and Polish with the singer Kayah. From there it disseminated into various other neighboring languages like Turkish, Bulgarian and Bosnian. The melody burned itself so hard into the collective consciousness of the Balkans, that it became recognizable for everyone from the region. And the fate and the hardships of the Romani people became closely associated with it, so that even people who do not know of its origin, become emotional in a melancholic-hopeful-bitter-sweet all-at-once kind of way.

Without further ado, please enjoy the song Ederlezi by Emir Kusturica and a wonderful dreamy sequence from Time Of The Gypsies (Warning, Spoilers!):

The Wonderful World Of French Comics: Monkey Bizness

Image taken from
Today I decided to start a new on-going series on this blog called 'The Wonderful World Of French Comics'.

In France comics are usually called 'Bande Dessinée' or by its abbreviation BD, spelled as bédé, which is the equivalent of the term Graphic Novels. If you happen to travel around France and get to visit different comic book shops in different towns, you will find that each shop in each city will have a slightly different line-up of BD. Most owners turn out to be real connaisseurs with their own taste deeply embedded in comic book culture. Just as diverse as the assortment are the readers who will hang out there and chat about the latest BD gossip. There seems to be a genre, a story and graphical style for everyone, making a visit to a Bedetheque in France a uniquely pleasant experience.

The BD I would like to introduce you to is called Monkey Bizness which is written and drawn by Rémi Zaarour aka Pozla, written by Boris Dolivet aka ELDiablo and colored by Pozla's wife Miaw. Three volumes have been published so far and they have proven to be so successful that a TV series is already in production:

The series is about a sleek baboon and a tough gorilla called Jack Mandrill and Hammerfist who are living in a post-apocalyptic city known as Los Animales in 2425,  a place that is divided into different districts according to species and ruled by violent gangs in a world that has turned upside down: due to biological experiments the animals have become intelligent and taken the place of the humans who are now without language and serve only as food or slaves for the animals.
A military experiment gone wrong, initiated by the same people who are responsible for the apocalyptic turn of events, brings an astronaut with a serious pathological oedipal complex into this future, letting loose a ripple of events that only brings more mayhem into an already anarchistic world.
Image taken from Li-An's Blog.
A word of warning: the series is pretty much politically incorrect in many ways and there is a lot of violence, nudity and drugs involved. Call it an Aristotelian Katharsis, but it's a lot fun to accompany two monkeys doing whatever they want in a no-holds barred city of wild animals.

Pozla's style in ink is very rough and gritty, which lends perfectly to the fast-paced and dark humored action of the comic. The duo is know for their work with ElDiablo as director and Pozla as co-director on Lascars a very successful online series of animation shorts about the street culture of youngsters in Paris that even was turned into real life tv series afterwards (I will certainly make a blog post about this other series in the future). It seems as if all their experience is going to turn into another tv series with this one as well, as production is well under-way and a teaser trailer as already been put online:

Unfortunately the BD series has not yet been translated. Another good reason to learn some French aside from that Paris trip and the language here really isn't all that compliacted: you will learn a good deal of slang and cursing and aren't those always the most important things to know? ;)

A good place to shop for French comics in general is to which you should be able to log into with your regular account and which should deliver worldwide. There is a well stocked comic book store in almost every town in France and I can only recommend that you seek one out if you happen to travel there: it's always worthwhile. 

If you have any questions about French comics, if you want to know where to get them or want some recommendations about new publications, please do not hesitate to ask me in the comments!