Emir Kusturica

Emir Kusturica



  • NATIONALITY : Serbian
  • DATE OF BIRTH : 24/11/1954
  • ASTROLOGICAL SIGN : Sagittarius
  • JOB : Director

Emir Kusturica studied cinema at F.A.M.U, the Prague Academy of Cinema, where he directed two short films Part of the Truth and Autumn. In 1978, he won the first prize at the Karlovy-Vary student film festival and returned to Sarajevo where he landed a contract on television, where his TV films were most often controversial.

In 1981, he directed his first film, Do you remember Dolly Bell ?, which tells the story of a Serbian family and a group of kids who grew up in the Sarajevo of the 1960s and which was to receive critical acclaim. of the whole world. Rewarded by the Critics’ Prize at the Sao Paulo International Film Festival and by a Golden Lion for the first work at the Venice Mostra, Emir Kusturica renews this stroke of brilliance with Papa is on a business trip who won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1985.

With these two successes, he established himself as the best representative of the Prague Group and confirmed his talents as a storyteller and stylist in Le Temps des Gitans, a kind of baroque poem where the cruelest aspects of life rub shoulders with an almost surrealist lyricism, which allows him to win the prize for directing at Cannes.

In 1993, he toured Arizona Dream in the United States with Johnny Depp, Jerry Lewis and Faye Dunaway and two years later won a second Palme d’Or at Cannes for Underground, a tumultuous fresco on the history of the former Yugoslavia. through a betrayed friendship. This controversial film sparked controversy. Shocked by these reactions of frank hostility, the director announces his withdrawal from the cinema. But he reconsidered his decision and, in 1998, returned to the trays for the unbridled farce Black Cat, White Cat. In 2004, La Vie est un miracle, a furious and leaping new comedy, for which he partly composed the music, was presented at Cannes. The following year, this darling of the Croisette takes the head of the jury of the official competition, and in 2007, he is back in the selection with the film Promise me. Also in 2007, he adapted his film Le Temps des gitans on stage, which became a punk opera presented at the Opéra Bastille in June. Finally, we should soon discover his documentary on the football player Maradona.

Occasional actor, Kusturica, who had already appeared alongside Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche in La Veuve de Saint-Pierre by Patrice Leconte, also gives the reply to Nick Nolte and Tchéky Karyo in L ‘Homme de la Riviera, remake of the famous Bob le flambeur by Jean-Pierre Melville directed by Neil Jordan. In 2009, far from his character as a whimsical director, he also co-starred in The Farewell Affair with Guillaume Canet where he played a former KGB agent.

Identity and religion

Emir Kusturica was born on November 24, 1954 in Sarajevo, in the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

The New York Times asked him at the start of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina about his identity and he replied: “I am a living example of the mixing and conversion of Serbs in Bosnia. My grandparents lived in eastern Herzegovina. They were very poor. The Turks came and brought Islam. There were three brothers in the family. One was an Orthodox Christian. The other two converted to Islam to survive. “5.

The filmmaker’s family is representative of Yugoslavia’s ethnic plurality, the crumbling of which later marginalized it: the ancestors of Emir-Nemanja Kusturica were Orthodox Serbs from Bosnia-Herzegovina6. About half of the inhabitants of Bosnia and Herzegovina have been followers of Islam since the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans6, while about a third of the population is of the Orthodox faith and 15% of the Catholic faith. Nevertheless, the director is not integrated, in his childhood, with the religious customs of the country6. He was also kept away from all religious worship, his father being a non-believer and a communist6. The latter is also a former resistance to Nazi Germany, integrated into the armed troops, civilians and titist partisans.

These elements need to be seriously qualified: in his relatively long “profession of faith” 7 published around the same time, Kusturica defines himself as Yugoslav and “child of primitive Bosnia”. He even specifies that “Serbian nationalists” “threatened him with a new circumcision” after the success of his film Papa is on a business trip, which gives credence to the idea that he was circumcised according to Muslim custom and as shown in this film whose main parental couple is Muslim and circumcises their sons. In the same book (chapter “Nostalghia”), he indicates that his paternal grandmother was “strongly linked to Muslim rites” and that his family “has moreover preserved them”.

In fact, Kusturica always felt deeply Yugoslavian and it was this last term that arguably best defined her identity at least until the early 2000s.

On Đurđevdan (St. George’s) Day in 2005, Emir Kusturica was baptized in the Serbian Orthodox Church under the name of Nemanja Kusturica (Немања Кустури dansа) in the monastery of Savina, near Herceg Novi, in Montenegro3. His detractors analyze this gesture as a betrayal of his Muslim past and a negation of his roots, to which he replies: “My father was an atheist while defining himself as Serbian. Okay, we may have been Muslims for 250 years, but we were Orthodox before that, while still being Serbs. ”


The young Emir is passionate about cinema: to earn pocket money, he works for the cinema in his neighborhood in Sarajevo where he attends screenings. A friend of his father also invites him to the official films set. But in the suburbs of Sarajevo, the young man plays football, goes out a lot and sees other children that his parents don’t like. Worried about his future, his father and mother, from a respectable family, decide to send him to study abroad. He was sent to his aunt’s house in Prague and entered the cinema academy in the Czechoslovak capital: FAMU. A brilliant and diligent student, he directed two short films there: Part of the Truth and Autumn. His teachers see him as a very promising talent, and later, in his interviews, he pays homage many times to his directing teacher: the Czech Otakar Vavra. During her Prague years, Kusturica absorbed all the great classics of cinema, whether Russian, Czech, French, Italian or American. These films deeply mark his style to come.

In 1978, Emir Kusturica directed his graduation short Guernica, a painful and deceptively naive film about anti-Semitism as seen by a little boy. This film won the First Prize for Student Cinema at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.


With this first trophy, he then returned to Sarajevo and obtained a television contract there. An anti-conformist artist, far from the line of central power over cinema, in 1979 he directed the medium-length film The Young Brides Arrive (from), based on a screenplay by Ivica Matić which deals with incest. Strongly influenced by the work of Andrei Tarkovsky, the film disturbs with its form and daring content. It is forbidden to broadcast. Kusturica nonetheless retained her television position and shot her second film the following year: Café Titanic, based on a short story by Yugoslav Nobel Prize winner Ivo Andrić. With this film he won first prize at the Yugoslav Television Festival.

United States

The Palme d’Or opens all doors to it, especially those of international producers. Columbia took an interest in him and offered him a huge deal. He hesitates between several scenarios including one on the Doukhobors. Eventually, a news item about the gypsies caught his attention and prompted him to work with journalist Gordan Mihic to develop Perhan’s painful and partly authentic story in Le Temps des Gitans. But the work, which is more a dreamlike fable than a documentary portrait, betrays connections with magical realism, juxtaposing a precise description of the way of life of the Gypsies with mythological, irrational and supernatural elements (gifts of clairvoyance, telekinesis, levitating childbirth …). All of them are inherent in the superstitious and mystical thought of the gypsy communities. This thought also strongly feeds the imagination of the filmmaker for this film as well as for his future productions. Once edited, Le Temps des Gitans was presented in Cannes, where it won the Best Director’s Award in 1989. At the end of the shooting, Kusturica was called to New York by the American-Czech director Miloš Forman, a former colleague of FAMU and president of the Cannes jury which unanimously awarded him the Palme in 1985. Forman wants him to replace him in his teaching post at Columbia University.

In the United States, one of Kusturica’s students, David Atkins, offered him a screenplay that became Arizona Dream. The filmmaker stops teaching and devotes himself entirely to the production of this work, devoted to the American dream and its harsh confrontation with reality. The painful conception of the film is made even more difficult by the start of the conflict in Yugoslavia which the filmmaker watches helplessly thousands of kilometers away. The shooting was stopped many times to let him travel back and forth to Central Europe and help his parents deal with the conflict. After the looting of the family home in Sarajevo and the theft of her first trophies, Kusturica moved her parents to Montenegro10. Arizona Dream, performed by Johnny Depp, to whom he remained very close thereafter11 as well as Jerry Lewis, Faye Dunaway and Vincent Gallo, was nevertheless completed and won the Silver Bear at the 1993 Berlin Festival.


Extremely shocked by the events in Bosnia and the way they are presented by the international media, Kusturica sees his powerlessness to act from the United States and decides to return with his wife to his native land and show the rest of the world his own vision of the conflict that is tearing his nation apart. Produced between France, Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria and Serbia, Underground tackles the difficult theme of the war in the former Yugoslavia and covers 50 years of history, from the bombings of Nazi Germany on Belgrade in 1941 to ethnic conflicts of the 1990s, passing through the Tito era. This vast epic fresco mixes buffoonish farce, symbolism, dreamlike, burlesque opera and carnival aesthetic12. Beneath its exuberance, the film conveys a tragic and desperate conception of history12. Underground is at the same time the most painful, the most visionary and the most inventive feature film of the director’s career, nourished by a poetic and visual force unmatched in his work12. It was shot partly in the Prague studios for the indoor sequences and partly in Belgrade, in the midst of the war, for the outdoor scenes. In the aftermath of the Tuzla massacre, the film won the director a second Cannes Palme d’Or in 1995, despite strong controversy when it was screened in France. Alain Finkielkraut publishes the day after the announcement of the prize list a violent column in Le Monde, entitled The imposture Kusturica13,14. The author accuses the filmmaker of capitalizing on the suffering of the martyrs of Sarajevo and of engaging in pro-Serbian propaganda under the guise of expressing his nostalgia for the former Yugoslavia12. At the same time, Bernard-Henri Lévy goes further in Le Point, reproaching the director for having “chosen the camp of the executioners” and for making Underground an ideological weapon in the service of Serbian nationalists12. Kusturica responded on October 26, 1995, with an article entitled Mon imposture15. He rejects the accusations made against him and asserts that neither Finkielkraut nor Lévy saw the film, which the interested parties confirm while maintaining their statements16,17. In the meantime, the director receives the support of personalities from the cultural world, including the Greek director Theo Angelopoulos18.

This controversy, and even more a report published in Le Monde on the feeling of “betrayal” felt by his childhood friends and his fellow filmmakers in Sarajevo besieged and bombed by the Belgrade army, decide the wounded filmmaker to ” to link its destiny to the regime of Slobodan Milošević ”19 and to stop the cinema. However, he changed his mind after watching the film Le Jour et la Nuit, “seeing the damage that Bernard-Henri Lévy can cause to the world of cinema.” “20. He shot Black Cat, White Cat in 1998, a film at odds with the previous one, quieter but no less picturesque, full of colors, music, humor and humor. It allows the filmmaker to be awarded a Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1998. As always, to decompress, he returns to music and goes on a world tour with his music group renamed the No Smoking Orchestra. From this tour, he directed the documentary Super 8 Stories in 2001.


After several unfinished projects, Kusturica decides to return once again to the war and tackles it through a story he has had the idea for a long time: a transposition of Romeo and Juliet in the Balkans. The idea gave birth to the film Life is a miracle which was released in 2004. For the shooting, he stopped with his team in the mountains of Mokra Gora and built there for the occasion a railway line and a traditional village in wood. This village, baptized Küstendorf and of which he proclaims himself mayor, is set up as a stronghold of anti-globalization, ecological tourism and cinema education, as he explains in numerous interviews. The village has been open to the public since September 2004. A cinema seminar for young students took place there in the summer of 2005. In October 2005, the municipality of Küstendorf won the European Philippe-Rotthier21 prize for architecture. In the meantime, the filmmaker, a great reader of Gabriel García Márquez whose universe has largely influenced Le Temps des Gitans and Underground, is planning to adapt L’Automne du patriarche and meets the Colombian writer in Havana to discuss putting his book on screen 22. Kusturica also wishes to bring to the screen other works of the 1982 Nobel Prize for Literature, including One Hundred Years of Solitude, his masterpiece22. However, none of the desired adaptations saw the light of day22.

Still in the vicinity of Küstendorf, after spending a year working on a documentary dedicated to the football player Diego Maradona, Kusturica began filming Promise Me in 2006. The first film, which took longer to make than expected, was released on French screens at the end of May 2008 while the second, produced afterwards and selected at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, was released in France in January 2008 .


In the same way he had Küstendorf, or “Drvengrad” (Wooden Village) built, the director founded a new town in homage to Ivo Andrić’s book, The Bridge over the Drina. The Serbian director Emir Kusturica with the support of the president of the Bosnian administrative entity of the Serbian Republic of Bosnia Milorad Dodik, intends to adapt to the cinema Le Pont sur la Drina, and for this he wishes to reconstruct in hard identically part of the city described by Andrić in his book23. Andrićgrad (en), or “Kamengrad” (Stone Village), was built near the present-day city of Višegrad, and inaugurated on June 28, 2014, the date commemorating the centenary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand d ‘ Austria in Sarajevo. It is also criticized for the project to serbiser a part of the city, rather Muslim.

Some characteristic touches

  • The music

Music is omnipresent in Kusturica’s films. After collaborating with Zoran Simjanović for his first films, it is above all the three films he made with Goran Bregović that make an impression: Time of the Gypsies (1990), Arizona Dream (1993) and Underground (1995). He also works with Serbian trumpeter Boban Marković and his 11-piece fanfare, now considered one of the best brass bands in Central Europe. Since 1998, his own group the No Smoking Orchestra has provided the music for his films. He plays there guitar and banjo and composes some of the pieces.

  • The Gypsies

The Gypsies are the central theme of two of Kusturica’s films: Time of the Gypsies and Black Cat, White Cat, although gypsy music players appear in almost all of his other films. Emir Kusturica does not have gypsy family roots but he has frequented them since his earliest childhood and, for him, these people symbolize the very notion of freedom [ref. necessary].

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