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Saturday, February 22, 2014

AN EPISODE IN THE LIFE OF AN IRON PICKER Review: Oscar Submission Series

Courtesy of New Wave Films
2013, 75 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

Danis Tanovic's An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker is a fascinating docudrama that was shortlisted for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination.  The film tells the story of Nazif (Nazif Mujic, winner of the Best Actor Award at the Berlinale), a Romani iron picker living in poverty with his wife, Senada (Senada Alimanovic), and two kids in Bosnia.  When Senada falls ill and needs an operation, she and Nazif cannot afford it because they aren't insured, so Nazif tries to do everything he can to come up with the money for the operation.

The brilliance of this film comes in Tanović's decision to shoot the film like a documentary.  The acting is so invisible and the story progresses so naturally that watching Senada's health decline and the family's desperation grow is truly heartbreaking.  This film highlights the struggles that the Romani people face in Bosnia.  It is highly likely that Nazif and Senada are turned away from hospitals simply because they are Romani.  The unpredictability of Senada's health adds a time bomb-like dimension to the film - it is not known whether Senada will live or die until the end of the film.  Episode is as unpredictable as they come, making it that much more compelling.

Above everything already mentioned, An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker is most impressive for its lack of sentimentality or forcefulness.  Tanović is smart enough to let the story play out and not interfere.

Recently, an article was published in The Hollywood Reporter detailing Nazif Mujic's return to Bosnia after the Berlin Film Festival and his subsequent departure.  Mujic, according to the article, played himself in the film and is now seeking political asylum in Germany because he feels as if Bosnia betrayed him.  This brings a tragic new dimension to this powerful film that will make me look at it in a very different light the next time I view it.

Overall, An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker is a beautifully-made, socially-conscious docudrama that should be more widely-known than it is now.  The Romani people are rarely given any positive media attention, so it is good to have a brilliant filmmaker like Tanović shine a positive light on them and highlight their plight.


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