Saturday, September 22, 2007

netflix encounters #1

Through a recommendation, I recently discovered a director.
Here is the first of the films I have seen of Emir Kusturica:

When Father was Away on Business (1985)
The title euphemism of ''When Father Was Away on Business'' refers to a trip taken by the young hero's parent - not a business trip, but a journey to a labor camp. It also indicates the boyish perspective from which the story is seen. This warmly appealing Yugoslav film makes charming use of 6-year-old Malik Malkoc and his outlook without sacrificing a larger and more knowing directorial overview.
While offering a humorous, richly detailed portrait of Malik and his family, Emir Kusturica also outlines the political climate in which the story unfolds. Set mostly in Sarajevo in the early 1950's, the film makes frequent references to the uneasy relationship between Marshal Tito's postwar Yugoslavia and the Stalinist Soviet Union. Stalinist loyalties are continually being put to the test, so that when Malik's father, Mesha makes a sarcastic remark about a political drawing in a newspaper, he risks dire consequences. The fact that Mesha's brother-in-law, a stern, bureaucratic Communist Party official, shares Mesha's interest in the same flirtatious young woman only seals Mesha's fate. He is sent to work in a mine as a result of his vague transgression, and the rest of the family is left to manage on its own.
Kusturica creates a wonderfully vivid sense of the various family members and their life together. Malik's long-suffering mother takes in work as a seamstress and looks after her father and three young sons, while also pining for her absent husband and conveniently forgetting the philandering that helped put him away. One of Malik's brothers is a bookish type who hoards every snippet of film stock he can lay his hands on. Malik himself has a habit of sleepwalking and a remarkable talent for interrupting adult sexual encounters. In one of the film's most affecting sequences, a funny scene that is also terribly sad, Malik goes to extraordinary lengths to keep his parents apart after his mother is finally able to arrange a visit to the mine at which her husband is imprisoned.
The film, which has a broad, expansive narrative style, follows the family through this crisis and back to some sort of equilibrium; in the meantime, it also captures some of Malik's formative experiences, including his first stirrings of love for an amazingly diffident little girl. Kusturica's measured direction is able to weave all these disparate elements together into a gentle, touching film alive with humanity and humor.

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