When Father Was Away on Business

When Father Was Away on Business (Serbo-Croatian: Otac na službenom putu, Отац на службеном путу) is a 1985 Yugoslav film by Serbian director Emir Kusturica. The screenplay was written by the Bosnian dramatist Abdulah Sidran. Its subtitle is A Historical Love Film and it was produced by Centar Film and Forum, production companies based in Sarajevo.

When Father Was Away on Business
Directed byEmir Kusturica
Written byAbdulah Sidran
Produced byMirza Pašić
StarringMoreno De Bartoli
Miki Manojlović
Mirjana Karanović
Mustafa Nadarević
Mira Furlan
Davor Dujmović
Predrag Laković
Pavle Vujisić
CinematographyVilko Filač
Edited byAndrija Zafranović
Music byZoran Simjanović
Distributed byScotia International Filmverleih (1985) (West Germany)
Cannon Film Distributors (USA) (subtitled)
Hollydan Works (2007-2008) (Non-US)
Koch Lorber Films (2005) (USA)
Release dates
  • 15 January 1985 (1985-01-15) (SFR Yugoslavia)
  • 12 September 1985 (1985-09-12) (West Germany)
Running time
136 minutes
Box office$25,053 (West Germany only)
$16,131 (USA only)[1]

Set in post-World War II Yugoslavia during the Informbiro period, the film tells the story from the perspective of a boy, Malik, whose father Meša (Miki Manojlović) was sent to a labour camp. When Father Was Away on Business won the Palme d'Or at the 1985 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.


In June 1950, a local neighbourhood drunk Čika Franjo serenades field workers. He sings Mexican songs, out of self-preservation, figuring it's safer for him to steer clear of songs originating from either of the two dominant global superpowers — the United States and Soviet Union — in the current climate of Cold War. Yugoslavia is experiencing a paranoid repressive internal apparatus looking to identify and remove enemies of the state in the wake of the Tito–Stalin Split. The local children, including Malik, climb trees and play around. Malik's mother Sena tells him that his father is on a business trip, while Malik is a chronic sleepwalker. His father, communist functionary Meša, was in fact sent to a labour camp by his own brother-in-law, Sena's brother Zijo, who's an even higher positioned Communist functionary. Meša had made a remark about a political cartoon regarding the Tito–Stalin Split in the Politika newspaper.

After a while, Meša's wife and children rejoin him in Zvornik. Malik meets Maša, the daughter of a Russian doctor. He falls in love with her, but last sees her when the ambulance takes her away.

At the wedding of his maternal uncle Fahro, Malik witnesses his father's affair with a woman pilot. She later tries to commit suicide by using a toilet's flush cord. Sena reconciles with her brother Zijah, who's been diagnosed with diabetes.



The writer Danilo Kiš described the film as "an artistic and moral endeavour."[2]

In The New York Times, Janet Maslin credited the film for " a humorous, richly detailed portrait" of its characters.[3] Time critic Richard Corliss said the film was worth seeing despite the lack of glamorous settings or characters.[4] Variety staff called it "rather witty commentary" and compared it to Czechoslovak comedy films in the 1960s.[5] John Simon of the National Review described When Father Was Away on Business as "a film of undaunted honesty and unswerving intelligence, borne out aloft by humor, heartache, satire and compassion-an unbeatable combination".[6]

In his 2015 Movie Guide, Leonard Maltin awarded it three and a half stars, praising it as "Captivating".[7] In 2016, The Hollywood Reporter ranked it the 26th best film to win the Palme d'Or, citing it for depicting how "humor and the almost mystical power of family trumps all."[8]

The Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa cited this movie as one of his 100 favorite films.[9]


When Father Was Away on Business marked Emir Kusturica's first time winning the Palme d'Or, the highest honour at the Cannes Film Festival. He won his second in 1995 for Underground.[10]

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref(s)
Academy Awards 24 March 1986 Best Foreign Language Film Emir Kusturica Nominated [11]
Cannes Film Festival 8 – 20 May 1985 Palme d'Or Won [12]
David di Donatello 1985 Best Foreign Director Nominated [13]
Golden Globes 24 January 1986 Best Foreign Film Nominated [14]
National Board of Review 27 January 1986 Top Foreign Films Won [15]
Pula Film Festival 20–27 July 1985 Big Golden Arena for Best Film Won [16]
Golden Arena for Best Actress Mirjana Karanović Won [17]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "When Father Was Away on Business". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 24 June 2017.
  2. ^ Đerić, Zoran (2009). Poetika srpskog filma. Banja Luka: Besjeda. p. 250.
  3. ^ Maslin, Janet (28 September 1985). "FILM FESTIVAL; 'WHEN FATHER WAS AWAY'". The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 23, 2018. Retrieved 24 June 2017.
  4. ^ Corliss, Richard (21 October 1985). "Cinema: Memory Movie When Father Was Away on Business". Time. Retrieved 24 June 2017.
  5. ^ Staff (31 December 1984). "Review: 'When Father Was Away on Business'". Variety. Retrieved 24 June 2017.
  6. ^ Simon, John (2005). John Simon on Film: Criticism 1982-2001. Applause Books. p. 94.
  7. ^ Maltin, Leonard (2014). Leonard Maltin's 2015 Movie Guide. Penguin. ISBN 978-0698183612.
  8. ^ Staff (10 May 2016). "Cannes: All the Palme d'Or Winners, Ranked". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 24 June 2017.
  9. ^ Thomas-Mason, Lee. "From Stanley Kubrick to Martin Scorsese: Akira Kurosawa once named his top 100 favourite films of all time". Far Out Magazine. Retrieved 23 January 2023.
  10. ^ Holdsworth, Nick; Kozlov, Vladimir (21 April 2016). "Emir Kusturica, Rep Deny Controversial Cannes Comments". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 24 June 2017.
  11. ^ "The 58th Academy Awards (1986) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2013-11-10.
  12. ^ "OTAC NA SLUZBENOM PUTU". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 24 June 2017.
  13. ^ Nash, Jay Robert; Nash, Stanley Ralph; Ross, Stanley Ralph (1987). The Motion Picture Guide ... Annual. CineBooks. p. 377.
  14. ^ "When Father Was Away on Business". Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Retrieved 24 June 2017.
  15. ^ "1985 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved 24 June 2017.
  16. ^ "Timeline". Pula Film Festival. Retrieved 24 June 2017.
  17. ^ "Mirjana Karanović". Pula Film Festival. Retrieved 24 June 2017.

External linksEdit