Words: Brody Rossiter
Bosnian filmmaker Danis Tanović is no stranger to bleak subject matter. His 2001 picture, No Man’s Land was an abrasive and darkly comic portrayal of the Bosnian War and two soldiers facing imminent death inside one of the conflict’s many inhospitable battlefield trenches. The picture also revealed Tanović as the premier Bosnian filmmaker of his generation, winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2001.
The director’s latest picture, the catchily titled, An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker, is a distinctly different offering in terms of style; shifting from bombastic wartime fable to realist docudrama. Focusing its narrative upon the gruelling daily lives of a Roma family situated in one of Bosnia’s remote, poverty afflicted villages, the film is a juxtaposition of habitual grimness and affecting family life exhibited via handheld camera.
Tanović’s primary vehicle for storytelling is titular ‘iron picker’ Nazif. The husband and father breaks down abandoned cars for parts and roams the snow-covered forests for firewood. He sneaks into a local bar for an afternoon tipple with a friend, before returning home to dinner table poor with produce but rich with affection.
Despite the harshness of the family and fellow villagers’ lives, it is the gentle tenderness of Nazif’s relationships with his pregnant wife, Senada, and their two daughters that shines through the austere realities of surviving upon this grim, forgotten, European landscape. The mischievous smiles between husband and wife, the playful interactions between parent and child; such moments carefully establish the foundations for Tanović’s social critique as the family unit’s descent into crisis snatches away these simple pleasures – also highlighting the life-threatening injustice and discrimination which Bosnia- Herzegovina’s Roma minority face on a daily basis.
The picture’s Cinéma vérité aesthetic may be as low-key and rudimentary as can be, especially in the wake of Tanović’s more recent Hollywood influenced pictures such as Triage – starring Colin Farrell – however its content is distinctly robust and impassioned. An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker is an authentic and therefore bleak – perhaps to bleak and concerned with the mundane for many – expose executed by a director both emotionally and physically alienated from his troubled homeland. A sometimes frustrating, yet undeniably potent and touching seventy-five minutes of world cinema.