Emir Kusturica Biography

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Birth Name: Emir Kusturica
Born: 11/24/1954
Birth Place: Bosnia And Herzegovina

While studying under Jiri Menzel at Prague's FAMU, Kusturica met Vilko Filac, his cinematographer of choice on all his films through "Underground" (1995). On the strength of his award-winning diploma film, "Guernica" (1976), he entered TV and helmed two critically-acclaimed movies ("The Brides Are Coming" 1978 and "Buffet Titanic" 1979) before making an auspicious feature debut with "Do You Remember Dolly Bell?" (1981), a coming-of-age story set in Sarajevo in the early 1960s, which won the Golden Lion for best first film at the Venice Film Festival. "When Father Was Away on Business" (1985) was an absorbing portrait of provincial life and politics in 50s Yugoslavia, partially seen through the eyes of a six-year-old child and confirmed Kusturica as an international director of note, earning such prizes as the Palme d'Or at Cannes, five Golden Arena awards (the Yugoslavian equivalent of the Oscar) and an Academy Award nomination as Best Foreign-Language Film.

"Time of the Gypsies" (1988) was his first film that did not contain a single frame shot in his beloved Sarajevo. Inspired by a newspaper article about the inter-European trade in young gypsy children, it employed an elliptical, fantastic style influenced by Latin American "magical realism" (i.e., Jorge Luis Borges) and featured non-professional, gypsy actors delivering most of their dialogue in Romany (a language the director barely understood). "Gypsies" brought further critical acclaim earning the Best Director award at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival. Kusturica then embarked on his first English-language film, "Arizona Dream" (1991), starring Johnny Depp, Faye Dunaway and Jerry Lewis. Boasting exceptional performances--one of Dunaway's best in years and one of Lewis' most impressive--the film ran into difficulty finding a US distributor and eventually debuted in theaters (albeit briefly) in 1995.

Kusturica collected his second Palme d'Or, as well as his best American reviews to that time, for "Underground", a film lamenting the death of Yugoslavia and spanning 50 years from the German invasion to the civil war. It also earned him the enmity of his fellow Bosnians. Opening with the ironic but undeniably nostalgic title "Once upon a time there was a country, and its capital was Belgrade," it featured Serb protagonists, causing some to view it as an apologia for Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic's vision of a Serb-dominated Yugoslavia made at a time when a true Bosnian should have been documenting Serbian atrocities against his countrymen. Kusturica's reaction to the criticism was to abandon filmmaking, but he later rescinded his retirement, eventually directing "Black Cat, White Cat" (1998), in which he returned to his passion for gypsy culture. Containing hardly a hint of politics, this prodigiously well-made, frenetic mixture of slapstick and folklore is Kusturica's funniest film yet, brimming with colorful, larger-than-life characters portrayed by a cast that once again included many non-professionals.