Sunday, 18 December 2011

When Father was Away on Business [1985]


Iconic Yugoslavian filmmaker Emir Kusturica’s sophomore feature, When Father was away on Business is an enjoyable tragi-comedic tale filled with rewarding yet restrained socio-political observations and satire. Yugoslavia’s relatively short-stint as a single political entity was dramatic to say the least, with this film being set during one such turbulent period – the 50’s, when the notorious Marshal Tito severed ties with the erstwhile Soviet Union. This was a time when even the most innocuous of remarks could get one arrested by the state police on charges of sedition and political conspiracy, and that is what happens with Mesha, a womanizing bureaucrat and the father of the movie’s 6-year old narrator. On the surface this is a riotous tale of peccadilloes and somnambulism which provide enough moments of laughter, while in essence it is a sensitive portrayal of a family struggling to survive in this time of political uncertainty and paranoia when its principal bread-winner disappears one night leaving his wife in a state of shell-shock. Chronicled through the eyes of the young, football-loving Malik, it comprises of deft characterizations and storytelling – be it his older brother’s love for discarded film reels, his falling in love with a girl who’s afflicted with a terminal illness, his mother’s fortitude despite being aware of Mesha’s straying ways, the deliberate acts of malice by Mesha’s mistress and her husband (who happens to be his brother-in-law), and so forth. What eventually emerges out of this well-enacted slice-of-life tale is a keen and heartfelt depiction filled with both humour and pathos.






Director: Emir Kusturica
Genre: Political Satire/Family Drama/Coming-of-Age
Language: Serbo-Croat
Country: Serbia (Yugoslavia)

2 comments:

Sam Juliano said...

"On the surface this is a riotous tale of peccadilloes and somnambulism which provide enough moments of laughter, while in essence it is a sensitive portrayal of a family struggling to survive in this time of political uncertainty and paranoia when its principal bread-winner disappears one night leave his wife in a state of shell-shock."

I haven't yet seen this particular Kusturica film, Shubhajit, but the excerpt from your great review (above) does frame his work in a general sense. I have seen his other highly-praised film UNDERGROUND. You really have collared the film's worth here.

Shubhajit said...

Thanks a lot Sam. Well, this was just the second Kusturica film I saw, the first one being Underground. Though there are a few common threads between the two, this felt felt a distinctly different film on the whole - perhaps on account of being one of the earliest movies, and hence his style might have still been in the process of development or finalization.