When Father Was Away on Business (1985) from Tuna

When Father Was Away on Business (Otac na sluzbenom putu), is a Yugoslavian film set in Sarajevo in 1950, when Tito had decided to split from Stalin. This was a very confusing and politically dangerous time for good Yugoslav communists. Kusturica chose to show his story through the eyes of a small boy, six year old Malak. He lives with a nerdish older brother, a philandering father who travels on business, a mother who sews for additional income, and a grandfather who hates baths. He and his best friend help an eccentric janitor collect herbs to sell to a local business for a little cash, hoping to buy a leather soccer ball.

Malak's father (Miki Manojlovic) is currently diddling Mira Furlan on his business trips. Coming home on the train, he makes an offhand remark to his mistress that a political cartoon goes too far and isn't funny. She, angry because he won't divorce his wife, reports this comment to the local party head, who also happens to be his brother-in-law. Father is arrested on the day of his two sons' circumcision ("My brother says we are done for. They are going to stretch out our pricks, then cut half of them off."), but tells the boys that he will be away on business. Life isn't easy for the family while father is forced to work in a mine and later moved for "social reconditioning" to a small town where the family is permitted to join him.

Here's an illustration of the film's eye for humanity. After his father is taken away, Malak begins sleepwalking. His brother rigs up a bell on a string to tie to his toe. Malak goes with his mother to visit father at the mine, and they spend the night in an abandoned train station. Malak is rigged with the bell, and, after he is presumably asleep, his parents try to make love. Malak is wide awake, however, and keeps interrupting them by ringing the bell. Because of this kind of intimate comedic observation, all of the characters are completely believable, and the rather serious political climate is made less oppressive to the viewer.

This an absolute gem from Yugoslavian director Emir Kusturica, and I didn't mind the subtitles at all. I was completely involved in the story, loved most of the characters, and found the glimpse into 1950 Yugoslavia fascinating. 




  • Mira Furlan, as the mistress. shows breasts

  • Mirjana Karanovic, as the mother, shows her right breast.

Scoop's note

Kusturica is considered one of the modern day geniuses of the cinema. As good as this movie is, with 100% positive reviews at RT, a Palme D'Or, and an Oscar nomination, its IMDb rating is actually the lowest of all Kusturica's full-length movies in his native language.

  1. (8.18) - Dom za vesanje (1988)
  2. (8.02) - Sjecas li se, Dolly Bell (1981)
  3. (7.80) - Underground (1995)
  4. (7.80) - Crna macka, beli macor (1998)
  5. (7.69) - Zivot je cudo (2004)
  6. (7.68) - Otac na sluzbenom putu (1985)
  7. (7.20) - Arizona Dream (1993)

The only film rated lower, Arizona Dream, is in English and has a cast consisting pretty much exclusively of eccentrics. It stars Faye Dunaway, Jerry Lewis, Michael J Pollard, Johnny Depp, Vincent Gallo, and Porizkova! 

The Critics Vote ...

  • It was nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. It won the Palme D'Or at Cannes.

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's a B-. Even if you don't usually like subtitled foreign period films, you likely would enjoy this one.

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