Film Review: An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker

As matter-of-fact as its mouthful of a title, Danis Tanovic's touching social-realist drama "An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker" offers a modest, low-key glimpse into the struggles of an impoverished Roma family.

With: Senada Alimanovic, Nazif Mujic, Sandra Mujic, Semsa Mujic. (Bosnian dialogue)

As matter-of-fact as its mouthful of a title, Danis Tanovic’s touching social-realist drama “An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker” offers a modest, low-key glimpse into the struggles of an impoverished Roma family. Re-creating a shocking instance of discrimination using the very people who experienced it, Tanovic (“Cirkus Columbia,” “No Man’s Land”) employs low-budget handheld visuals, marking a stylistic return to his roots as a documentary filmmaker during the war. Although perhaps too dramatically understated for significant arthouse exposure in the West, the film will certainly travel to fests, cinematheques and human-rights events.


The Mujic family — father Nazif, mother Senada Alimanovic and lively young daughters Sandra and Semsa — live in Poljice, a Roma shantytown in the Tuzla region of Bosnia-Herzegovina, far from the conveniences of the city. Nazif ekes out a precarious living by collecting scrap metal for recycling. Senada minds their home and the girls, cooking, cleaning and washing clothes by hand. The couple appear to be tender, loving parents as well as affectionate, respectful partners.


Although Nazif fought in the trenches for four years during the Balkan war, he has no government pension, child benefit or health insurance for his family. When Senada suffers a miscarriage, the hospital refuses to perform the prescribed D&C surgery unless Nazif pays 980 Bosnian marks (approximately $675), an unobtainable fortune for an iron picker. With Senada’s life at risk (she could develop sepsis), Nazif tries every means possible to facilitate the operation.


Per press notes, Tanovic read about the family’s story in the newspaper in 2011. Appalled and angry, he decided to reconstruct the event after meeting the couple. His underlying theme, something compatriot helmer Aida Begic also dealt with in last year’s Cannes entry “Children of Sarajevo,” is the lack of compassion for the socially underprivileged now prevalent in contempo Bosnian society, compared with the feeling of fellowship that abounded during the war years.


While their active daughters seem completely natural in front of the lens, at first Nazif and Senada come off as a tad self-conscious, although this manifests itself as their appearing slightly stiff rather than playing to the camera. The rest of the credible non-pro cast includes people related to the actual event, many of them relatives and neighbors of the couple. For practical reasons, doctor friends of the helmer play most of the physicians, including the surgeon who refused to operate on Senada.


As with last year’s Berlinale competition entry “Just the Wind,” which was also shot on location in a Roma settlement, the characters here are depicted with dignity, as the film resists the cliches of wild gypsy music, chaotic dancing and picturesque all-nighters by a campfire. More than anything else, we experience the mundane existence of the protagonists and their humanity.


Reportedly made on a $23,000 budget, the pic was shot over nine cold winter days with a Canon 5D Mark II. Gritty, mobile, natural-light lensing by Erol Zubcevic (who also shot “Children of Sarajevo”) mostly focuses tightly on the characters, cutting away occasionally to take in the snow-covered Roma village or the smoke-belching factories outside of Tuzla. Scant music is diegetic.


The story of Nazif and Senada now has a new development; they appeared at the press conference following the film’s first Berlin screening with their new baby boy, Danis.

Film Review: An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker


Production: An Operation Kino release in former Yugoslavia, Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria of a SCCA/pro.ba production, in co-production with ASAP Films, Vertigo Emotionfilm, with the support of Fondacija za kinematografiu Sarajevo, Rai Cinema. (International sales: the Match Factory, Cologne, Germany.) Produced by Amra Baksic Camo, Cedomir Kolar. Co-producer, Danijel Hocevar. Directed, written by Danis Tanovic.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Erol Zubcevic; editor, Timur Makarevic; sound (5.1), Samir Foco. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (competing), Feb. 13, 2013. Running time: 74 MIN.

With: With: Senada Alimanovic, Nazif Mujic, Sandra Mujic, Semsa Mujic. (Bosnian dialogue)

More Film

  • Directors Guild Bans Day-and-Date Releases From

    Directors Guild Wades Into Streaming Movie Debate With Day-and-Date Awards Ban

    In a slap at streaming services, the Directors Guild of America has banned “day and date” releases from its top feature film award. The DGA announced Wednesday that it was taking the step “in recognition of the unique cultural importance of the theatrical experience to audiences and filmmakers alike.” Its national board unanimously approved the change [...]

  • Gabrielle Carteris

    LGBTQ Groups Backing SAG-AFTRA in Member Privacy Fight Against IMDb

    SAG-AFTRA has announced that a coalition of national LGBTQ groups is backing the union in its fight for member privacy against IMDb. The groups include the National LGBTQ Task Force, the country’s oldest national LGBTQ advocacy group; GLAAD; the Transgender Law Center; the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund; Transcend Legal, Inc.; and Equality Federation. [...]

  • Myst Computer Game

    'Myst' Film and TV Rights Sell to Village Roadshow

    “Myst,” the influential video game that helped usher in the CD-ROM era, may inspire an ambitious multi-platform film and television universe. Village Roadshow Entertainment Group, the co-producer and co-financier of the “Matrix” and “Sherlock Holmes” franchises, has acquired the rights to the first-person graphic adventure. For those born post-90s, “Myst” was wildly popular and hailed [...]

  • ‘Half-Sister’ Director Damjan Kozole on Compassion,

    ‘Half-Sister’ Director Damjan Kozole on Compassion, Learning From the Past

    Two estranged half-siblings from a small coastal town in Slovenia spend the better part of their young lives ignoring each other’s existence. But when circumstances force them to move into the same cramped apartment, they have no choice but to come to terms with the past that binds them, while trying to decide how to [...]

  • The Traitor

    MMC Studios, One of Germany's Biggest Production Facilities, Changes Hands

    Germany’s MMC Studios, which has hosted such recent international productions as Joseph Gordon-Levitt thriller “7500” and Marco Bellocchio’s Cannes competition film “The Traitor,” is changing hands. Frankfurt-based investment company Novum Capital has acquired the facility in Cologne, one of Germany’s biggest film and TV studios, from Luxembourg private equity fund Lenbach Equity Opportunities I. The [...]

  • Box Office: 'Annabelle Comes Home' Earns

    Box Office: 'Annabelle Comes Home' Kicks Off Tuesday With Solid $3.5 Million

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “Annabelle Comes Home” collected a strong $3.5 million in Tuesday night previews. The supernatural thriller is expected to earn $30 million over its first five days in theaters. “Annabelle Comes Home” is the third “Annabelle” movie and seventh entry in the Conjuring franchise. Preview ticket sales are in line with [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content