This May’s Cannes Classics programme will include I Even Met Happy Gypsies, the legendary film by writer and director Aleksandar Petrović, which had its premiere 50 years ago in Cannes, winning that year’s Grand Jury Prize.

I Even Met Happy Gypsies will be the first Serbian film screened as a part of the official Cannes Classic programme of the most renowned of all global film festivals. The film will be screened on May 24th at the Buñuel Theatre, beginning at 2130h. The screening will be attended by Olivera Katarina, whose arrival to Cannes has been organized by Film Center Serbia. This year’s Cannes Classic is made up of sixteen films produced between 1946 and 1992. Some of the other films on the list include Blow Up, All That Jazz, In the Realm of the Senses, The Battle of the RailsThe Yugoslav Cinematheque has for this occasion prepared a newly remastered copy of the film, as this will be the first Serbian film screened as a part of Cannes Classics.

As was often the case with Serbian and Yugoslav directors of that period, Aleksandar Petrović was a student of the prestigious FAMU film school in Prague. He arrived at feature films after a long string of mostly short documentaries. After an interesting, but in large part routine war drama The Only Way Out, directed together with Vicko Raspor, Petrović dazzled the film world with his masterfully intimate and intellectual duo-melodrama Two, screened at the 1962 Cannes festival. He offered something similar in the equally successful film Days (1963), while presenting a radically different poetic in Three, his tour de force anti-war omnibus (1965) based on the stories by the popular and acclaimed writer Antonije Isaković.

After I Even Met Happy Gypsies, Petrović returned to a similar imaginarium in his film It Rains in My Village (1968). Afterwards, he took it upon himself to make a demanding pan-European adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s classic The Master and Margarita as well as a Franco-German coproduction based on the works of Heinrich Boll, Group Portrait With a Lady (1977), starring Romy Schneider.

The later part of his career was uncompromisingly dedicated to a very risky and problematic screen adaptation of Miloš Crnjanski’s Migrations trilogy. This project was not completed in the scope and manner that this masterful cineaste envisioned, until his death in 1994.

I Even Met Happy Gypsies, the legendary film by writer and director Aleksandar Petrović.

The film I Even Met Happy Gypsies fits well into both Serbian and Yugoslav black wave, that is, into what was the tendency, almost a revolution, offered by young film makers of the time, who were creating in utterly different production circumstances (Živojin Pavlović, Dušan Makavejev, Želimir Žilnik, Vojislav Kokan Rakonjac, Ljubiša Kozomora, Gordan Mihić…). On top of that, I Even Met Happy Gypsies was a huge commercial success in Serbia and Yugoslavia, and has proven to be an undoubtedly far-reaching, referential and influential film in the decades to come, which is most obvious in films by distinguished directors of later generations, each of them dealing in their own way with the lives and customs of the Roma community, which was fundamentally marginalized up until I Even Met Happy Gypsies burst onto the scene – films such as Time of the Gypsies by Emir Kusturica, Guardian Angel by Goran Paskaljević and Gucha: Distant Trumpet by Dušan Milić.

This revamped version of I Even Met Happy Gypsies, on the occasion of this great anniversary, without a doubt presents a great challenge for the viewer as well as an extraordinary reason for another viewing – or, for those who were born a little too late or took their time blossoming into cinema-lovers, the first contact with the best part of Serbian and Yugoslav film legacy.

Zoran Janković,
Film Critic and Editor in Chief of FCS online