Thursday 24 May 2018

Film review: An episode in the life of an Iron Picker

At the IFI

An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker
An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker

Padraic McKiernan

SISYPHEAN stoicism is brought to the next level during the opening scenes of Danis Tanovic's captivating verite offering, An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker. Whether it's deep in a snowswept forest cutting firewood for his shantytown-dwelling family in central Bosnia-Herzegovina or scavenging in rubbish tips for scrap metal, it's clear that Nazif Mujic could out-Sisyphus Sisyphus in terms of dignified perseverance in the face of adversity.

Gritty fly-on-the-wall footage of family life with his wife Senada and their two young children accentuates the sense of an existence that is barely sustainable. While it's difficult to imagine a bleaker backdrop, the director's deft use of handheld cameras seamlessly draws you into their world, and the experience is rendered doubly compelling by the knowledge that this diary of the daily grind endured is a precursor to a reconstruction of true events that led to a national scandal. It's also worth noting that the family at the centre of that storm, Nazif etc, are actually playing themselves.

The high-wire act that is the family finances is suddenly toppled when complications around a miscarriage result in Senada needing a life-saving medical procedure that costs 980 Bosnian marks (circa €500). Nazif is not in a position to stump up the cash and because his wife has no medical insurance, the hospital concerned refuses to perform the procedure. Cue a dramatic race against time as Nazif seeks a means to subvert the institutional indifference that risks a tragic outcome.

The mood music may be low-key and understated but the director's experience as a documentary filmmaker is seen to good effect as he successfully delivers a feature that bristles with authenticity and heart. His decision to use the real-life players also pays off brilliantly as it gives this worthy winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Berlin Film festival an emotional impact and intensity it might otherwise have lacked.


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