A middle class Sarajevo family weathers some tough times by ultimately pulling together in the compelling, character-driven drama “Our Everyday Life,” named Bosnia’s foreign language Oscar submission. Aided by a sterling cast hailing from across ex-Yugoslavia, helmer-writer Ines Tanovic, a former documaker, brings authenticity of feeling as well as vibrant local color to the story. Further fest travel is guaranteed.
The narrative centers on the Susic family: 60-something-year-old father Muhamed (Emir Hadzihafizbegovic, credibly playing older than his years), a longtime CEO at a factory where his executive staff and board stage a coup against his leadership; energetic mother Marija (Jasna Ornela Bery), a retired teacher, always convinced that things will turn out for the best; divorced and depressed son Sasha (Uliks Fehmiu), a jobless war vet with physical and emotional wounds, forced by economic exigencies to move in with his parents; and pregnant, unmarried daughter Senada (Vedrana Seksan), who has been living in Slovenia since her parents sent her out of the city during the war years.
When Marija brings home a former student, Lejla (Maja Izetbegovic) who has returned from abroad, Sasha is drawn to her youth, energy and creativity, but he finds it difficult to forget his ex-wife Nina (Nina Violic), a journalist whom he married during the war.
The uptight, upright Muhamed, who isn’t happy with his children’s life choices, finds it easier to talk to his friends at the local barbershop than to explain what is going on with him at home. There, he continues to criticize Sasha for his late nights and lack of initiative, forcing Marija to play peacekeeper. Coming across as completely natural, these scenes of family argument strike a universal chord. As does the fact that Marija hides a secret of her own.
In 2010, Tanovic contributed a short, open-ended drama, “Bosnia & Herzegovina Story,” to an omnibus feature titled “Some Other Stories.” In retrospect, that episode feels like a treatment of sorts for “Our Everyday Life,” as it centered on a financially strapped Sarajevo family, with the parents played by Hadzihafizbegovic and Bery. Violic also appeared as the love of the family’s proud son, but her character was a Dutch U.N. Inspector and the son was played by Bosnian thesp Fedja Stukan.
Notable for its warmth and intimacy and never overstaying its welcome, Tanovic’s quietly detailed script neatly captures the sense of her homeland’s lost moral compass as it makes a torturously slow transition from a state of crisis. It also makes clear the plight of an entire generation, now in their 30s and 40s, who lost their youth in the war, and feel trapped in stalled lives. It says a lot that, after the open ending, most viewers would be happy to spend another 90 minutes with the Susic clan.
Sharply focused, naturalistic lensing by Erol Zubcevic (“Children of Sarajevo”) captures the subtle, nuanced playing of the thesps, the colors of the city, and, strikingly, a bathtub full of bright red peppers that Marija plans to turn into ajvar. Also naturalistic, the rest of the tech package is fine.