In a remote Bosnian village, Nazif and his pregnant wife Senada live with their two young daughters. Nazif is the titular iron picker, breaking up old cars and selling the parts for scrap. Financially, they are struggling. The winter is cold and bleak for them already, but it takes a critical turn when Senada’s pregnancy suffers complications. She needs routine but life-saving surgery. But lacking medical insurance or the funds to foot the bill, they are turned away from the hospital.
Nazif has limited time to raise an impossibly large amount of money to save his wife and family, rallying his community, facing hurdle after hurdle – his car breaks down, the electricity cuts out. Theirs is a life precariously on the edge, with no buffer room for surprise expenditures or medical emergencies as they face unfeeling bureaucracy and institutionalised racism against their Roma heritage. Nazif recounts a violent memory from the Bosnian war, and we see that his present situation is an extension of his past: for Nazif and Senada, life is one episode after another.
Based on a true story and acted out by the real-life family involved, AN EPISODE IN THE LIFE OF AN IRON PICKER is an engrossing docudrama-cum-exposé of poverty and circumstances that are not often brought to screen. Director Danis Tanovic doesn’t dress up his film with a soundtrack or flashy camera work, instead hovering over his subjects’ shoulders and bringing their untold story right to us.
Sparse and unflinching, AN EPISODE IN THE LIFE OF AN IRON PICKER unfussily presents hardship, strength of will and the power of perseverance. It’s a quiet fight for survival, and one that will make you much more grateful for the NHS than you were before you went into the screen.
Nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar, and winner of both the Jury Grand Prix and the Silver Bear for Best Actor at the Berlin Film Festival, this affecting, political, family drama is not to be missed.