In 1995 the film-maker Emir Kusturica finished what is globally recognized as his masterpiece: Underground. The film unfolds in a half-century timeline in the torn nation of Yugoslavia, the director’s wounded homeland. Tied to the origins and culture of his country and saddened by its political conditions, by means of a grotesque narration he analyzes half a century of Yugoslav history ‘from war’ (Second World War) ‘to war’ (Yugoslav Wars) as he ironically underlines in the scan of the chapters of the film. When the movie was presented in Cannes it caused violent criticism because of the way Kusturica had dealt with the theme of the Yugoslav war, still in progress at the time. In particular, he was accused of being excessively pro-Serbian. However the director always denied the political exclusiveness of his work by proposing his story (and that of Yugoslavia) as a metaphor of the conflicts that corrode the world. Underground is not a propaganda movie, it is a film about war, manipulation, common dramas that are on a universal communication plane. The grotesque aesthetics, hallmark of the director’s cinema, drown the suffering of the war into an orgy of Ridicule, with a sparkling atmosphere similar to that of a circus (as the director himself said about his work) in which everything is placed in a dangerous, fascinating and entertaining situation. The combination of “Ridiculous” and “Tragic” is not just an aesthetic and narrative choice but a forced conciliation of a conflicting duality, the suffering of the country balanced by an ironic, but not detached, vision.
The film won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1995 but after the violent criticism that suffered Emir Kusturica decided not to work in cinema anymore.
Three years later, in 1998, the director decided to turn the documenary he was working on, a portrait of the musical tradition of gypsies, into a new film: Chat noir, Chat blanc. With this movie Kusturica renounces the metaphorical complexity of Underground, having fun in the creation of a gypsy comedy without any apparent strong political position. But even if he placed particular emphasis on the Ridiculous aspect, he can’t be exempted from dealing once again with the tragic drama of Yugoslavia. Behind the colorful, grotesque, new universe Kusturica has created, we see nevrosis in the conflict between two opposition: while the organized crime, symbol of the of the country’s constant war, arrange its injustices, two couples of lovers try to lift their feelings above that world of impositions. The feature of duality, already explicit from the title, finds its integration in love, in fact the two couples, made of antitheses, found in the realization of their own feelings a way to escape from their conflictual situation. The desire for a communion of hearts, wished for by the author, is in constant conflict with the inevitable vision of the Tragic in which the whole world seems confined, so for his characters Kusturica takes refuge in the dionysian to deceive the collective neurosis. In Underground the characters are locked into an illusion built around them, a physical subterranean, similar philosophically to Plato’s Cave, in Chat noir, Chat blanc the characters elude war with love, they escape from reality and realize their own happines, leaving behind the Tragic that they choose to ignore. We can’t reach collective happines through an egoistic escape because the conflict continues stays behind us. Maybe the message is that everybody needs to express their own love to find it collectively, and then our love can be connected with that of others and create collective peace, the hoped communion of hearts.