When Father Was Away on Business is a 1984 film from what was once Yugoslavia, directed by Emir Kusturica.
The film is set in Bosnia from 1950 to 1952, during a chaotic period known as the "Informbiro" in which Yugoslavia was splitting away from the rest of the Eastern Block and pursuing an independent path. The Malkoč family is a family of Bosnian Muslims living in a rural village. Patriarch Mesa Malkoč is a Communist bureaucrat as well as a serial adulterer. Mesa gets sent to a prison camp by his own brother-in-law, Zijo. The nominal reason is because Mesa made an indiscreet comment about a political cartoon, but the real reason is because Zijo is sweet on the local school's P.E. teacher, lovely Ankica, who happens to be Mesa's mistress.
In any case Mesa is sent away to the work camp in Zvornik. His long-suffering wife Sena keeps this a secret from the kids, telling them that Mesa has gone away on business. Eventually, long-suffering Sena goes to the work camp to be with her husband, taking along their younger son Malik. All of this is told through the eyes of 8-year-old Malik, the POV character, who falls in his first puppy love in Zvornik.
- Aside Glance: The movie ends with what seems to be a dream sequence. Malik is out sleepwalking again, but this time he flies up into the air and over a tree. He's looking out at the valley when he turns his head back and looks backwards, straight at the camera. Freeze frame, roll credits.
- As You Know: Sena makes sure to greet Zijo with "Hello, big brother!" in an early scene, so the audience knows their relationship.
- Black Comedy: Towards the end, Ankica and Mesa have sex once again. Evidently not feeling too good about herself afterwards, Ankica tries to hang herself by wrapping the chain from an elevated toilet tank around her neck. All she manages to do is flush the toilet before the chain snaps.
- Call-Back: The scene where Zijo interrogates Mesa has Zijo calling a nervous Mesa into a drab office with a single electric fan running, then grilling him and telling him that he's going to get arrested. Later Mesa's buddy Ostoja, also in State Sec, calls a nervous Mesa into a drab office, one that even has an identical electric fan running...only to tell Mesa that his period of internal exile is over and he can go back to his home village.
- Cat Fight: Sena and Ankica have an absurd hair-pulling Cat Fight when Sena comes to the school to confront Ankica about her affair with Sena's husband. Malik has to break it up.
- Circumcision Angst: Because they are Muslims, Malik and his older brother Mirza have to be circumcised. He's terrified about it, and when the time comes he screams in pain.Mirza: They grab your prick and cut half of it off.
- Coat Full of Contraband: In the first scene on the train, a man approaches Mesa on the train and opens his coat to show watches, necklaces, and other contraband goods. Mesa buys two tubes of lipstick, one for his mistress and one for his wife.
- Fat Best Friend: Malik's bigger, much fatter best friend Joza, who is definitely fat but still resents it when other kids call him "fatty".
- Footsie Under the Table: One of Mesa's go-to moves.
- He does it with Ankica on the train back to the village. There isn't even a table, he just sticks his foot up her skirt.
- Later he does this with a hooker at a dance hall. What makes this particularly gross is that 1) he's super-obvious about it, sliding far under the table, and 2) his son is sitting right next to him. Malik slides down in his chair just like his dad does, until he slides all the way under the table and sees what's happening; then he lights the hooker's skirt on fire.
- Handshake Refusal: Sena, who knows perfectly well that her brother put her husband in prison, pointedly refuses Zijo's outstretched hand when she's leaving to join Mesa at the work camp.
- Ill Girl: When living with his mom and dad in exile in Zvornik, Malik has his first case of puppy love with Masha, a girl his age. Unfortunately, she's suffering from an unspecified but terminal blood disease. Eventually she's whisked away to the hospital and Malik says that he never saw her again, but her father came back wearing a black armband.
- Lady Drunk: Mrs. Petrovic, a minor character. In one scene she's shown sneaking into a restroom to swig vodka from a flask hidden in her Victoria's Secret Compartment. In the last scene, at her daughter's wedding, Mrs. Petrovic has gotten sloppy drunk and is singing loudly at the dinner table.
- The Mistress: Ankica is this for Mesa, and she complains that he won't leave his wife. It's implied that this is the reason why she tells Zijo about Malik's careless remark about the cartoon, to get him in trouble, as revenge.
- Narrator: Occasionally Malik is heard in voiceover commenting, like when he talks about how he didn't want to go to Zvornik, or about his Circumcision Angst.
- Obnoxious In-Laws: Mesa regards his father-in-law, who lives with them, as a freeloader. That however is not nearly as bad as his brother-in-law Zijo, who chucks Mesa into the gulag.
- Primal Scene: Three times for Malik, who has a weird knack for interrupting his father's sexy moments.
- In the work camp Mesa and Sena start making love, despite the fact that Malik is barely six feet away on the other side of a curtain. Malik, who has a little alarm bell (he's a sleepwalker), takes childish delight in ringing it to interrupt his parents' sex.
- Later, Malik catches his father playing footsie with a hooker. He sets the hooker's skirt on fire.
- Then at the end Malik looks through a window and sees his father and Ankica having sex. He simply walks away.
- Sleepwalking: Malik is given to this. In one scene Mesa is pulled out of a prostitute's bed with word that his son sleepwalked away from the babysitter during the night. Mesa goes on a frantic search and finds his son standing on the top of a cliff.
- Slice of Life: It's a rather wry comedy about the misadventures of a Bosnian Muslim family—the philanderer dad, the suffering mom, the son who wants a soccer ball and is terrified of getting circumcised. It's set in a time of high tension in Yugoslavia, with political repression and purges, but that's actually not too relevant to the story; Zijo has Mesa imprisoned out of personal jealousy.
- State Sec: Very much a thing in Communist Yugoslavia, and a very scary thing during that time in which the Yugoslav Communist Party under Tito was imprisoning supporters of Stalin. Mesa even refers to Zijo as "State Security" in the scene where Mesa finds out he's going to be arrested.
- Victoria's Secret Compartment: Played for a gag. Natasha is carrying on a secret romance with Fahro. She sneaks into a bathroom and pulls from her Compartment a love letter with his picture. She exits the bathroom and her mom Mrs. Petrovic enters. Mrs. Petrovic, who seems to be the Lady Drunk, pulls a flask of vodka from her Compartment and takes a swig.
- Voiceover Letter: Malik sends a Voiceover Letter to his dad where Malik talks about how much he misses Mesa and is looking forward to seeing him.