‘I love this film – a realistic, artistic masterpiece!’
Epizoda u zivotu beraca zeljeza (An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker) is a feature film from Central and Eastern Europe (Bosnia-Herzegovina), directed by Danis Tanović and released in 2013. After his internationally acclaimed dramas including Ničija zemlja (No Man’s Land) which, right after the Balkan wars, put the bloody conflict on stage with no taboos, Tanović returned again to the topic of trauma, although through a different lens. In making An Episode he invested time and energy in understanding and depicting the struggle of Roma communities in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Speaking in an original Romani dialect, the film’s Muslim Roma characters embody a special ethnic and religious culture within the post-war Balkan region, although the film primarily emphasises one aspect of their social status, namely their situation in the healthcare system. The film is based on a real story inasmuch as it is a re-enactment of a chapter of the non-professional actors’ lives, showing how they experience everyday human rights abuses and discrimination.
There is no background music in the film; instead, the viewer hears only the pure noises of everyday life. In this way, and with the help of the artistic and complex visual mood, the viewer can appreciate the dramatic force of the situation, while watching the bare life of Nazif, his wife Senada and their two daughters in a little village. Nazif makes a living for his family by gathering iron and other metal scissel, transporting it to the local depot and exchanging the materials for money. Their ordinary life in the village changes when Nazif’s pregnant wife has a miscarriage but still carries the dead foetus in her womb. Because Senada has no health insurance she is refused the necessary treatment and operation by the local city hospital unless the family pays 980 Bosnian marks (500 euros). Nazif is forced to find an alternative solution while Senada’s physical state rapidly worsens.
The viewer feels the burden of this traumatic decision, and through this sympathises with the protagonists in their everyday but dramatic efforts to survive. The post-socialist state and its healthcare system, which refuses care for people who are in a desperate economic situation and cannot afford health insurance, stands as the antagonist. For this reason, we can value An Episode as a drama. With Tanović providing an objective but supportive angle, the camera follows its subjects, the family and the wider community in a private mode. Amongst other awards, An Episode won the Jury Grand Prix at the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival, and Nazif Mujic won the Silver Bear for Best Actor at the same festival.
Möller, Olaf: Film Comment, New York, vol. 49, no. 3 (May/Jun 2013), pp. 60–63
Murtic, Dino: Post-Yugoslav Cinema: Towards a Cosmopolitan Imagining, Springer, 2015
Zajec, Špela: ‘Esma’s Secret, No Man’s Land and consumption patterns in war-torn territories’, Studies in Eastern European Cinema, vol. 4, no. 2 (2013), pp. 199–214