"My village is a cultural laboratory" - interview to French newspaper "Le Journal du Dimanche", 17 april 2011

The director and musician Emir Kusturica returns to the frontstage. The Serb presents his autobiography; a work that looks like him: tenderly cazy.

He says he wants to deal with forgetting. But forgetfulness contains a certain amount of memory and is a factor of survival. This is why filmmaker Emir Kusturica wrote his autobiography. A book at his image, tenderly crazy, where we meet the popular neighborhoods of Sarajevo, kids from all backgrounds and all religions, politicians sometimes not very popular, anti-Hollywood actors like Johnny Depp. For this ambiguous rebel, a punk poet who reflects the turmoil of his country in films that are both excessive and pure emotion, everything is political. Emir Kusturica, twice Palme d'Or in Cannes, led a life of controversy, but he never gave up his fight against the liberal capitalism, main enemy, according to him, of the culture and the 'identity.

  • Your autobiography is entitled Where am I in this story? Do you feel lost?
    • EK : I have asked myself a lot of times this existential question. A question that does not call for direct response, only an actor can get a response from a director to such a question, but in our intimate life, it is more delicate. An American Time Magazine reporter wrote when my first film Do you remember Dolly Bell ? was awarded in Venice that “I came from nowhere”, I was “noboby from nowhere”. Today, I say that I am from a country that does not exist, that no longer exists, I am one of those Yugoslavs who lost their hometown, Sarajevo, that is my identity.
  • You are uprooted, how do you live with that?
    • EK : I created my country, my town, Küstendorf, at the top of a hill, on the border between Bosnia and Serbia. A traditional village with a hundred wooden houses, cinemas, a theater. It is a cultural laboratory where I organize courses of art and test. I try to develop a model of society where the inhabitants live in autarky. Küstendorf is the antithesis of the Coca-Cola culture, besides in the shops, you will not find Coca-Cola, all our products come from organic farming, from farms in the region. We make our own beer, our own wine. Here, people live in harmony with nature. Küstendorf is today my land. I'm the master, it's true, it looks like a dictatorship, but a cool dictatorship …
  • You are sensitive to the protection of the environment?
    • EK : I am a true ecologist, opposed to any form of transgenic culture. Ecology is the only valid political path today. If I were a politician, I would pass a new law to classify all the campaigns of the planet “natural park”.
  • That's utopia, right?
    • EK : Utopia or cinema. Cinema reaches the impossible. But when I see the images of Japan and the Fukushima power plant, I tell myself that this is the beginning of the end. It is scary to see how a wave can ravage entire cities. Everything is written in the Bible, the Apocalypse. But in this catastrophe, it is not only nature that causes the destruction of man. The power of nature has come up against the power of men, it is the man who has manufactured nuclear energy, the most powerful and the most dangerous.
  • You grew up in the Gorica district of Sarajevo, the Gypsy neighborhood, do you feel close to them?
    • EK : I always felt a bit “gipsy”. They are an idealistic people who will never live by European standards. They never lost their sense of freedom, of fighting to survive. As a child, when someone called me a Gypsy, I did not take him for an offense while in town they were called “Blacks” or “Indians”. I loved the idea of ​​being an Indian, an Indian is not afraid of anything, not even of death. And like Gypsies, wherever I go, I try to adapt, like them, I do not always happen, but I try. I always fought for them, to make known their culture, their music, their character. We will never be able to assimilate them, put them in the mold of the European model, they have too much sense of freedom. It's their strength.
  • What did you think of the evictions of Roma last summer?
    • EK : I was obviously shocked by the expulsions carried out by France as well as by Italy. But European policies do not think in human terms, but in numbers. I do not think Sarkozy hates Roma, but each country obeys a quota of deportations to the border …
  • VYou grew up with Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims, what did you learn from this religious melting pot?
    • EK : At the time, Yugoslavia looked like a wild forest, with the most beautiful flowers in the world … But the problem in the Balkans is that for centuries Catholics look to the Vatican, the Orthodox to Moscow and Muslims to La Mecca. These three communities resemble each other only in their hatred, and not in their love. Part of my family was converted to Islam two centuries ago, but that does not shape my identity, my father never practiced Islam. Today, I am an Orthodox Christian, so I have to be tolerant towards any other religion. I stayed very close to the oriental culture, the melancholy that the Muslims brought us.
  • Do you believe in God?
    • EK : Yes, I believe in God, or at least something unknown above us. Superior strength. But I do not practice my religion. I readily admit that religion helps people to know their personality better. We build ourselves better when we believe in something rather than nothing.
  • Do you consider yourself “internationalist”?
    • EK : Internationalism is the opposite of globalization. The enemy, the danger, is globalization. It breeds the rise of the far right, even in so-called democratic countries. Because globalization stifles cultures. “Internationalism” is solidarity with the working class, with all those who believe in differences, and the most important thing in the world for me, autonomy. Attention, I say “autonomy” and not “nationalism”. In my vanished country, nationalism has reached every community and destroyed forever the international spirit.
  • Is the label “pro-Milosevic” still sticking to you?
    • EK : I have been misunderstood in the past. That an intellectual like Alain Finkielkraut could have spoken of Underground as an “Americanized pro-American propaganda” was ridiculous, he had not even seen my film … I was accused of being pro-Milosevic to simplify things because we like to put people in boxes. Yugoslavia did not disappear because of Milosevic alone, it was the economic concepts that eroded my country. The intellectual humanism of Parisian intellectuals disgusts me, those people who spoke of my country without knowing its complexity. I hate this angelism that pretended to teach me about the Balkans. Good and bad, it works only in genre cinema, not in real life and even less in history.

Emir Kusturica, Where am I in this story?, JC Lattès, 300p., 21,50 euros.

Translation by Matthieu Dhennin

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