Director Emir Kusturica deservedly won the prestigious Golden Palm at Cannes with this complex, moving drama, his second feature.
It is the early 1950s in Yugoslavia, which, under the leadership of Marshal Tito, has broken with the USSR. No-one can be sure if their next-door neighbor is just shooting off his mouth, or deliberately trying to bait someone else into making an anti-government statement. If that happens, police
arrive in the middle of the night and the individual is soon "away on business." Malik (Moreno D'E Bartolli) is the 6-year-old child who narrates the story of his father, Mesha (Miki Manojlovic), a privileged Labor Ministry official who is sent off to a work camp. The family likes everyone to
think that Mesha is in jail for unspecified political actions, but just about everyone knows the truth--that he was set up by his former lover, Ankica (Mira Furlan). Malik and his older brother (Davor Dujmovic) do their best to keep up their mother's (Mirjana Karanovic) spirits while her husband
is gone, but that's a tall order when she knows that the man who arrested her husband is her own brother, the local police commissioner, who is also sexually involved with Ankica and wanted to get his competition out of the way.
WHEN FATHER WAS AWAY has its fair share of humor and whimsy; Malik's sleepwalking assumes an almost fairy-tale dimension, and the state propaganda machine is the source of some well-observed laughs. But Kusturica never allows us to entirely forget the harsh underpinnings of his tale, and doesn't
flinch from depicting the charming Mesha's less savory qualities. The banished father's chauvinism threatens, on occasion, to strain our sympathy beyond breaking point, and the last scene, in which he exacts a viciously nasty revenge on his former lover, is a masterpiece of emotional manipulation;
even though we abhor Micha's behavior, we clutch our seats in the hope that he will not be caught red-handed. Not in front of the children, anyway.
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- Released: 1985
- Rating: R
- Review: Director Emir Kusturica deservedly won the prestigious Golden Palm at Cannes with this complex, moving drama, his second feature. It is the early 1950s in Yugoslavia, which, under the leadership of Marshal Tito, has broken with the USSR. No-one can be sur… (more)