When Father Was Away on Business (1985)

by | Jul 2, 2005 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

When Father Was Away on Business

Studio:  Koch Lorber Films
Video: 4:3 full screen
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Language: Serbo-Croatian
Subtitles: English
Extras: Interview with director Emir Kusturica, Photo Gallery
Length: 1 hour and fifteen minutes
Rating: **1/2

Emir Kusturica’s film When Father Was Away on Business opens with a
scene in the Yugoslavia in 1950 during a turbulent time for the country
as it resists the pressures of Stalinism.

Malik, the film’s mischievous six year old narrator, is mostly
oblivious to the tumult his family experiences.  His mother Senija
struggles to keep the family together as her husband and Malik’s father
Mesha  engages in a steamy affair
with party official, Ankica.

In numerous scenes, young Malik (Mareno De Bartolli) shows an affinity
for the craft of acting,  much more than just a child actor who
delivers lines on cue.  Of course, by his nature a six year old
will not understand the philandering ways of his father, or the
emotional trauma this behavior causes his mother.

Yet De Bartolli’s performance keeps the film interesting.  He
keeps loving his father, despite the man’s notable flaws, and
reluctantly obeying the wishes of his parents.  One difficult
scene for the young actor is a painful circumcision, which in this era
parents sadly put their children through far after childbirth.  At
other times, Malik sleepwalks through deserted streets, frightening his
parents to death when he ends up in precarious locations in the middle
of the night.  In these scenes De Bartolli’s acting goes beyond
that of a six year old boy, his eyes closed as he traipses through the
city.  

For the rest of the cast, Miki Manojlovic  delivers a credible
performance as the disloyal husband Mesha, who seems to put equal
passion behind his role of doting father as he does cheating
spouse.  Mirjana Karanovic  contributes to the cast as the
angry but accepting wife, Senija.  Though her husband makes no
effort to change his cheating ways, his faithful wife Senija ultimately
maintains her composure, doing her best to keep the family together.

The film was made in 1985, though video and sound quality on this DVD
are strong.  The soundtrack consists mostly of an annoying song
routinely played on the accordion; perhaps for natives of the former
Yugoslavia it is entertaining music.

For those film buffs who enjoy the unusual story telling technique of a
clever six year old naively discovering the world around him, When
Father is Away on Business is worth seeing. It might have been an
interesting DVD extras to follow up with the actors, particularly De
Bartolli, who is now in his mid-twenties since the film is twenty years
old.

— James A. Fasulo

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