(I Even Met Happy Gypsies)
Director: Alexsandar Petrovic
Production: Avala, in association with Prominent; color; running time: 90 minutes.
Screenplay: Aleksandar Petrovic, based on the play by Dan Hampton; photography: Tomislav Pinter; editor: Milo Mica; music: Aleksandar Petrovic; art designer: Veljko Despotovic.
Cast: Bekim Fehmiu (Bora); Gordana Jovanovic (Tisa); Bata Zivojinovic (Mirta); Olivera Vuco (Lence); Mija Aleksic (Father Pavle); Etelka Filipovski (Bora's Wife); Milorad Jovanovic (Toni); Milivoje Djordjevic (Sandor); Rahela Ferari (Nun); Severin Bijelic (Religious peasant).* * *
I Even Met Happy Gypsies is the progenitor of all the Yugo-gypsy movies that came after it, most notably Emir Kusturica's The Time of the Gypsies and Goran Paskaljevic's Guardian Angel, neither of which even recapture the raw authenticity of Petrovic's acutely observed and felt picture.
Alexander Petrovic, one of the grand old men of the Yugoslav cinema who died shortly after completing his epic Migrations, enjoyed the only major international success of his career with I Even Met Happy Gypsies, which was nominated for Best Foreign Film Oscar in 1967, as was Petrovic's Three on the previous year. The film actually picked up the Special Jury Prize in Cannes in 1967.
In all of Happy Gypsies, there is not a single happy gypsy—the title is an ironic quote from a traditional tzigane tune. The actors who play the gypsies may be elated now, however, for this Yugoslav movie has been nominated for an Academy Award, and with good reason. Though it is full of flaws and inconsistencies of style, it depicts, with melancholy and muted colour, the odd, anachronistic ways of all-but-forgotten people.
On the Pannonian plain near Belgrade, a colony of gypsies dwell in a clot of squalor, surviving on what they earn from buying and selling goose feathers. Outstanding among them is an erotic, intemperate feather merchant named Bora, played by Bekim Fehmiu, a Yugoslav actor strongly reminiscent of Jean-Paul Belmondo. Endlessly indulging in wife-beating and mistress-bedding, Bora downs litres of wine and scatters his seed, his feathers, and his future. As the film's principal character, he meanders from confined hovels to expansive farm fields, from rural barrooms to the streets of Belgrade. Where ever he travels, he witnesses—and sometimes acts out—the gypsies' heritage of violence and tragedy, providing the viewer with astonishing glimpses of a rapidly vanishing life.