Interview in French magazine Optimum #66, march 2004

Double Golden Palm winner in Cannes, Emir Kusturica comes back for a third one with Life is a miracle. Rock star, gypsy, poet, stubborn image gladiator, revolted monster of the cinema, Kusturica has no equal.

  • Optimum : Before Christmas, two magazines were titling on the Bible, are you a reader of this book ?
    • Emir Kusturica : Yes. When you look at the films of Kubrick, Kaurismaki, Kurosawa, Visconti, Güney… they all contain elements of the Bible. It is the book of the books. It touches the very first elements, starting with life. If the New Testament looks more like a fairy tale, the Old one gives the biblical dimension we find in the life of today, which explains why so many people reads it often. They don’t do it because of the church, but for them.
  • In the name of the Bible, of Religion, there has been many killed, still now ?
    • EK : This is different. There you speak about Christendom, not of the Bible as an instrument of History. History is what can be the worse to people. It is there to justify unjustifiable things. The religion is the tool of the church. The church becomes the partner of what must be solved on the battle field. Difficult to deny that the Religion plays the role of the hero in the jail of the individual. When Abraham looks at the moon and decides to pass from several gods to only one, it is the first step towards individualism of the human being. Today, I still regard this act as a gesture of autonomy. But what occurred to the human - the history and the interpretation of original Christendom – is another history. If people were religious in the good way, we would have avoided million deaths. That is called the idealism. I really think that people need to believe in something. To be ignorant towards Religion is very dangerous, because you transfer that into another Religion, atheism, the Religion of the profit which kills everyone, make you an object and not a subject.
  • And you, where are you, because sometimes you describe yourself as an atheist ?
    • EK : I’m looking for God. A god. It is difficult. I try to go towards a philosophical thought, I learn how not to divide things, not to separate, like does the church, the profane of the sacred.
  • You are making a new film on war, in order to understand what happened to your country, in order to learn who you are ?
    • EK : Completely. For me, everything is war. This is unfortunately a system of thought. Hegel said “when the revolution stops, science continues”. We see today that it is more sophisticated, society is fed by the war. They - the multinationals which rule the world - do not need nations anymore. They prefer the term “region”. Without war, the world would sink into chaos. I wanted to make a film on an angel arriving on the table of the UN Secretary, by telling him that he was now free, that he didn’t need to take care of humanity anymore, that the wars were finished. But toward what would that lead to?
  • Do you think that would lead toward big problems ?
    • EK : Huge. Because we would remove a major element of the heart of humanity. Profit. What is the most beautiful scientific invention to date? There are many, and they are all born from military experiments. We live in the time of economic Fascism. Why do I speak about Religion. Because I speak about something people don’t have any more. Religion is a major element of metaphysics and thus of evolution. You must be religious. God is the most important idea invented by men, not war. And atheism became a new religion. In terms of cinema, we are close to degree zero. The films are getting worse and worse, they don’t feed each other anymore, they don’t help the human spirit anymore, they shorten life, they destroy the brain. We are moving towards a world ruled by hamburgers, a dangerous world. The cinema is still an exception, not yet the bulk product dreamed by some, but it can be the tool of a totalitarian regime wanting to impose the same taste to everyone. As I already said, I fuck up the country which wants that I die for it.
  • Are you taking a chamanic path ?
    • EK : More and more. I try to make life as beautiful as possible. It’s hard. We eat shit, we’re poisoned by the outside. If you want to be optimistic, you’re likely to be stupid. If you want to be humanistic, you’ll be stupid whatever happens. Since 1989, there is more poverty than before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Which means that the progress is not essential for the sake of humanity. The multinationals try to denature the culture, to lower it, to make us understand it is not a need. Why? To turn us into simple consumers not asking questions.
  • Was it a necessity for you to make Life is a miracle ?
    • EK : Yes. To cure me. I was heavily poisoned, wounded by a group of intellectuals who gave lessons on what arrived to my country.
  • Is it an answer to those who spoke about Underground ?
    • EK : Absolutely, like Alain Finkielraut, the Parisian specialist who knew better than anybody what occurred in my country, why it was destroyed, who used the first page of “Le Monde” to speak of a film that he hadn’t seen. In the years 1960-1970, when somebody wrote without having seen, you were banned. Now, who cares of such processes. We’re in a virtual world where anybody can say anything. Information is ridiculed and yet we need it. This film continues where the precedent stopped, but in the tone, it’s closer to When father was away on business.
  • You say it’s dangerous to speak of the war, because you’re subjective ?
    • EK : ou have to try to be as impartial as possible, it’s our task. It’s difficult. I hope that this film will emphasize the human substance of the war. War never stops.
  • It’s difficult not to judge, not to point the guilty ?
    • EK : Those who wanted to change the conception of Europe, to pass from nations to regions, awoke here and there the desire to kill the others, they have reborn the spirit of revenge. This world is ruled by people who initiate with a sad manner the concept of territory.
  • Are your films hymns to love ?
    • EK : Absolutely. In Life is a miracle, the love story is in the middle of the conflict. I started from a true story, a Shakespearian conflict inside the Balkan conflict, in which a captive Muslim woman and her Serb guard will have some feelings. I’m very glad I’ve been able to do it. It’s my advantage on somebody like Bernard-Henri Lévy, that I’m able to work on the drama of my people. I make my films in reaction to the wounds I received from history.
  • You do it with your guts ?
    • EK : Yes, instead of making films in Algeria with a Channel scarf, a white shirt and a perfect blow-dry. Besides, this is why his remarks are so shitty. As if I dared playing blues, which I make all the time, without this music speaking to my spirit, to my heart.
  • After the attacks against Underground, you wrote an article called Mon imposture
    • EK : I tried to answer them. I don’t know which party are these people. Glucksmann and his group advised me not to pay attention to them. But where does this hate come from ? As if I came to give you a lesson on your past. As if I belonged to a higher people. All the films I made are the fruit of a reaction before something which hurt me. People know when you don’t play with the guts.
  • Is this film a way of feeding the stories you’ve already told?
    • EK : Absolutely. The more I get older, the more I realize a constancy which generates the drama in the world. Fight for the good, the beautiful. I am currently rebuilding an old village in Serbia, with a place for students to learn how to make films and other things. It’s always possible to extend your ideas. But overall, we have a serious enemy, the world corporatism. It’s everywhere, using its bodyguards, in fact the army to persuade us that it must be like that. When they bombed Belgrade, they wanted Milošević and killed 3.000 people. Was Milošević worth these victims which they described as “collateral damage”? The abuse of power is something systematic in the human nature. It’s like if while being opposed to someone, it could justify your actions. Today, they want to make us idiots believing all what they say on TV.
  • Do you believe in ICTY1) ?
    • EK : No. It isn’t a joke, it’s an important institution, unfortunately more political than we think. We’re close to the political imposture. It’s necessary to judge the war criminals, but all of them.
  • Do you trust your instinct ?
    • EK : I develop my films during the shooting. I increase the sense of detail, of the ideas, without trying to hide my inner conflicts. Today, the cinema doesn’t answer the social, the psychological. When did you see films of flesh, with open heart ?
  • The cinema, especially in Hollywood, doesn’t care of the dark side of our soul?
    • EK : Hollywood is rationalist, which has nothing to do with art.
  • In this way, you’re like Truffaut to say cinema is more beautiful than life ?
    • EK : He is right. The cinema can exceed the small things, leaving the daily routine to reach the level of the problems of the world. Your street can become the center of the world. The newspapers, the media minimize knowingly the good things, the essential things. I will never forget that during the bombings on Belgrade, the article of Harold Pinter on the seventh page of the “Guardian”, which you could read or not, one was an important way of marginalizing the truth. Then can you imagine the headline of “Le Monde” or “New York Times” announcing that poverty has increased considerably, that would put fire to the planet, that would start revolutions. We’re being delivered the minimum, and that’s generally pure stupidity. Orwell is surpassed. The world is stuffed with paradoxes, there are too many of them.
  • Do you mean cinema, painting and music are the last reactions against manipulation, disinformation ?
  • How do you choose your actors, they all have incredible faces, always speaking, even if they aren’t saying anything ?
    • EK : I seek actors full of life, mood, anger. With a supreme goal : to give the best. I want that my films look like the old films, the old paintings. At the time of Underground, I was looking at Delacroix and other artists who had succeeded in catching the collective subconscious so greatly, while desperately trying through the details to organically reproduce the whole. The faces play a great part.
  • They let pass through, they tell their truth ?
    • EK : When Bernard-Henri Lévy stands in the desert with his perfect haircut, looking at the horizon, he takes himself for André Malraux, but unfortunately the imposture is crude.

Translation by Matthieu Dhennin

1) International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia
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