Time of the Gypsies, 1989

Emir Kusturica’s Time of the Gypsies is a curious, visually hypnotic film: a lyrical glimpse into an exotic, obscure culture, a tragedy of lost innocence, a reaffirmation of love and family. At the center of the story is a young man named Perhan (Davor Dujmovic) who lives in a Gypsy ghetto with his grandmother (Ljubica Adzovic), uncle (Husnija Hasimovic), and his crippled sister Danira (Elvira Sali). Their means of income revolve around his grandmother’s faith healing abilities and the occasional sale of limestone to the villagers. Perhan also possesses a divine power, telekinesis, a talent that has proven to have little application in his austere life. His one source of comfort is his beloved Azra (Sinolicka Trpkova), but his repeated marriage proposals are invariably rejected by her mother, who believes that his poverty makes him an unsuitable husband. One day, his grandmother saves the life of a little boy, the son of a charismatic criminal named Ahmed (Bora Todorovic). In gratitude, Ahmed agrees to take Danira to a hospital in Ljubljana during an upcoming ‘business’ trip to Italy with his brothers, and to pay for all her incurred medical expenses. Perhan decides to accompany the apprehensive Danira to the hospital, leaving his grandmother and Azra behind. Along the way, indications of Ahmed’s illicit activities begin to surface, as children and young women, sold into servitude by their families (or sometimes, kidnapped), crowd into the van to join them on the trip. Unable to stay with Danira at the hospital, Perhan is forced to leave her behind and travels with Ahmed to Italy. Smuggled alongside Ahmed’s syndicate “family”, Perhan is seduced into a life of crime.

Kusturica creates an ethereal, supernatural atmosphere in Time of the Gypsies, reflecting the mysticism and nomadic existence of the Yugoslavian gypsies: the Roma. The mesmerizing tracking of the opening sequence seamlessly weaves from a beggar claiming mental illness, to Perhan’s uncle praying to a non-denomination god while gambling on the streets, and sets the transient, transcendental tone of the film. The camerawork of the oven scene, as Perhan explains the limestone production process to Azra while loading firewood, is innovative: muffling his voice, as if teleported through the chimney, briefly reappearing at the top of the stack, then returning to the ground with the the final product. Levitation sequences further contribute an element of surreality to the film: the St. George’s Day festivities, Perhan’s pet turkey, his telekinetic powers, the birth of a child. The result is an eccentric fusion of comedy and tragedy, realism and fantasy; in essence, an inextinguishable celebration of life in the direst of circumstances. Time of the Gypsies is a privileged glimpse into the soul of a discarded race – of joy and mourning, of transgression and human decency – a compassionate portrait of marginalized people, not unlike ourselves.

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