The setting of this delightful comic drama is Yugoslavia during the years 1949 - 1953 when Tito was denouncing Stalinism and trying to find a different path for his country without becoming too Westernized. Mesha (Miki Manojlovic), a minor party official and philanderer, calls the state "a mad house," and the lusty woman he's with promptly reports him to his brother-in-law. Before Mesha can wink his eye at another lady, he's shipped off to a labor camp.
The drama unfolds through the eyes of Malik (Moreno D'E Bartolli), Mesha's sensitive six-year-old son who is told that his father is "away on business." While his mother struggles to keep the family afloat, Malik and his older brother are forced to grow up swiftly.
When Mesha is sent to Sarajevo for "re-education," his family joins him there. While his father continues to commit adultery, young Malik falls in love with a little girl who unfortunately dies of a disease. He begins to sleepwalk, and during his excursions, the young boy proves that his spirit is as adventuresome as his father's libido.
Director Emir Kusturica's work is earthy and endearing. When Father Was Away on Business offers a revealing glimpse of life in Yugoslavia during a period of political transition. The lives of the characters are impacted by these changes, and their quest for freedom any way they can get it is totally arresting.