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[whitespace] Branka Katic, Florijan Ajdini Slavstick Comedy: Branka Katic and Florijan Ajdini get cozy in 'Black Cat, White Cat.'

Rauncho Deluxe

'Black Cat, White Cat' slaps every stick

By Richard von Busack

HERE'S AN EXCELLENT example of the difference between a foreign film and an art film. Emir Kusturica--"The Emir of Yugoslavian Cinema"--came out of short-lived retirement to direct Black Cat, White Cat, a Yugoslavian slapstick hillbilly comedy about a group of rural grifters flummoxing one another. The film couldn't be farther from the images of wartorn Balkans you'd expect. This one boasts all the tricks of the old-time Minnie Pearl/Ferlin Husky revenuer-shooter: mouth harp boinging away on the soundtrack, flocks of geese tangling everyone's steps and lots of reaction shots from cute critters (including the house-cat team that gives the film its title).

The convoluted plot begins by the Danube River, where a shiftless Rom family loafs on the porch of their shack, fanning themselves and watching the boats go by. They're broke again, and the dad's efforts to promote some money end with him in hock to Dadan, a powerful local thug (played with winning Vincent D'Onofrio brio by Srdjan Todorovic). The goon agrees to overlook the debt if the young son of the family, Zare (Florijan Ajdini), marries Dadan's midget sister. Zare professes no zest for the match: Afrodita (Salija Ibraimova), nicknamed "Ladybird," is famous for her grouchiness. And the callow boy already has a lover: the pert, skinny Ida (Branka Katic), who sells orangeade down the river at a cheap lakeside resort.

Black Cat, White Cat delivers raunchy comedy throughout. Gap-toothed yokels slap each other around, and a big, fancy and unwanted wedding ends in disaster, gunfire and threats--and a lady cabaret artist who pulls nails out of a board with the muscles of her butt. This bucolic silliness ends as expected, with the villain headed for a dunk in the septic tank. Kusterica raids the armory of silent comedy: the sight of an angry fat guy jumping up and down on his hat is followed by a man falling into the water with all of his clothes on.

What recommends this goofy comedy is its exoticness--the summery, sunflower-covered countryside with its rocky roads and unpristine yet inviting rivers. The soundtrack, which is full of Balkan wedding music with horns, keeps the movie ambling along, and there's corn-pone poetry in a line about an old man memorializing his own deceased midget wife (a different midget than the reluctant Ladybird): "You could have put her in your coat pocket to warm your heart." Especially pleasing is Katic as the tomboyish juvenile Ida, who sometimes likes to take potshots with her rifle at the neighbor's flowerpots. She never looks quite as pretty as in the moment when her face is framed through the heart-shaped hole in an outhouse door.

'Black Cat, White Cat' (R; 130 min.), directed by Emir Kusturica, written by Gordon Mihic and Kusturica, photographed by Thierry Arbogast and starring Branka Katic, Florijan Ajdini and Salija Ibraimova, opens Friday in Palo Alto at the Square and in San Jose at Camera 3.

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From the September 16-22, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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