Friday, November 16, 2007

When Father Was Away on Business

Otac na službenom putu; drama, BiH, 1985; D: Emir Kusturica, S: Moreno De Bartolli, Miki Manojlović, Mirjana Karanović, Mira Furlan, Mustafa Nadarević, Pavle Vujisić

Sarajevo, 1 9 5 0s, during the Tito-Stalin split. Malik is a 6-year old boy who lives a normal life and often says Communist phrases like: "I would rather be Russian shit than an American cake". His father is Meša, an official in the Ministry of Employment, while his mother is Sena. When Meša spots a caricature of Stalin in the newspaper and announces they exaggerated, he gets overheard by his ex-girlfriend Ankica who tells everything to her husband Zijo, who works for the Yugoslav government. Malik, after observing family circumcision, witnesses how his father gets forced into a heavy coal mine labor due to political reasons. When he finally returns, the family goes with him to Zvornik. They finally return to Sarajevo where Ankica and Zijo show remorse.

Emir Kusturica's second Golden Palm, the one he won in '95 for "Underground", was much more justified than his first one which he won in 1985 for his quiet political drama "When Father Was away on Business": it is a good film, but with a sustained kind of quality. Its running time of 130 minutes is really overstretched and without a real backup because it doesn't have any ambitions for an epic drama, especially since it exhausts its creativity already after the first hour, thus turning the trip of the protagonists to Zvornik into a boring finale filled with irrelevant, boring scenes and empty pauses. Still, Kustruica's gentle and quiet style neatly creates an interesting story about the events of the 6-year old protagonist Malik, while many children's bizarre, silly phrases have a campy sense of humor, like "Malik, Malik, you look like shit" (in the original, "Malik, Malik, na govno si nalik" it rhymes) or "Joža, Joža, you have a fat skin" (in the original, "Joža, Joža, debela ti koža", it also rhymes), and some details are quirky, like when Ankica wants to hang herself on a toilet, but when she jumps, she just flushes the water, which all add into a good little film with a small shift of the bizarre.


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