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In this luminous tale set in the former Yugoslavia, Perhan, an engaging young Romany with telekinetic powers, is seduced by the quick-cash world of petty crime that threatens to destroy him and those he loves. Written by
Dawn M. Barclift
There is no other movie that has made such a big impact on my life as this one. I remember well the anticipation and excitement I felt when I sat to watch it for the first time, that grey day in March 1989. Upon it's release "Dom za vesanje" was received with rave reviews in Yugoslavia, deemed as the most important movie of the Yugoslav cinema by many. And in many aspects it is. Ironically it's a gypsy movie, one of a kind in former Yugoslavia. Gypsies have been principal heroes before in important movies as "Skupljaci perja" and "Ko to tamo peva", but there never was a gypsy epic like this one before. Or after.
The story begins in Slovenia, the year is not given but since the movie "Breathless" from 1983 is shown here, it must be mid 80's. The main character is a young gypsy (we later find out that his father was a white Slovenian)named Perhan. His family consists of the wise and shaman-like grandmother Hatidza, who is played very well by Ljubica Adzovic, hard luck gambler of an uncle Merdzan and his sick sister Danira. We follow Perhan in his quest to win the beautiful Azra, girl from the neighbourhood. Since her mother thinks little of Perhan and calls him a bastard, Perhan decides to do anything to prove himself worthy. His chance soon comes in form of a big time gypsy hustler, the so called Champion Ahmed Djida. Ahmed and his two brothers, Zef and Sadam, cruise around gypsy settlements looking to recruit potential thieves and hustlers and make money on them. Perhan is chosen because he possesses telekinetic powers and his charming character falls to Ahmed's liking.
The character of Ahmed is perhaps the most interesting and complex one. First he is shown as a rogue with a heart of gold who takes Perhan under his wing and becomes like a father Perhan never had. He even offers to get Danira into a hospital and pay for her treatment. Later as we follow Ahmed and his sordid family we find out that they are nothing more than a gang of crooks looking to take advantage of the first naive youth with no money.
Perhan is soon attracted to the world of petty crime and starts enjoying its' advantages. In not too long, the poor gypsy with a less than impressive appearance is turned into a fancy-looking player and charmer. When he returns home however, his grandmother is appalled at the change she sees in her beloved grandson. He has changed and it is apparent also in the way he acts towards Azra. He suspects her of whoring after he finds out that she's pregnant, even though he had slept with her before that. The splendor of their wedding is therefore shown in a negative way. Now that he has become more than accepted by everyone in his community, especially Azra's witchy mother, he is not satisfied anymore. The dream he had has vanished.
He therefore decides to return to Ahmed, together with Azra. This is where everything goes wrong. No matter how much Azra tries to convince him that he is the father of their child, Perhan won't have none of it. "We'll make our own child" he responds harshly. All this pushes Azra over the edge and she dies after giving birth to their son in a visually overwhelming scene. Perhan casts himself into the abyss of self destruction and he doesn't even know what becomes of his son. He spends his days drinking and Ahmed shows concern, the last time we see him do this. Soon thereafter, Ahmed has a heart attack. Not long after his recovery, he vanishes and takes Perhan's share of the loot. After finding out Danira is still not cured, Perhan seeks revenge over Ahmed.
One of the most touching moments is when Perhan meets his son, named after him. Acting by Davor Dujmovic is really top notch here and it's a wonder how this 19-yearold could have displayed such maturity on screen. It is a real tragedy that Dujmovic never got the chance to build a stable acting career, instead being tossed crumb parts after this. It is a mystery and a disturbing thing that such a talent could have gone neglected since. Bora Todorovic is also marvelous as Ahmed and steals most of the scenes he's in. Sinolicka Trpkova as Azra also does a fine job as well as Husnija Hasimovic who plays Merdzan.
This movie is a feast for the eye for it contains a good deal of interesting and spectacular imagery and dream scenes which rank up with the best ever filmed. My favourite is Perhan's first dream, where he dreams about Azra and himself getting married. Some of the motifs are clearly borrowed from Tarkovski's "Andrey Rublev", yet the music and the scenery are incredible and carry a distinctive gypsy feel which is magic. That is what makes this movie a standout, for there has rarely been done a movie about gypsies in such a stunning way. Some critics have since proclaimed "Underground" as Kusturica's best work, but I have no doubts that this is where Kusturica topped. It was his last picture made in the former Yugoslavia and as such a magnificent farewell. The way this movie ends is really heartbreaking and leaves little hope to the viewer. But I guess Yugoslav movies rarely ever did.
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