Of the 70 Foreign Language entries I saw this year, a depressing number featured protagonists who were not in the least bit sympathetic. In this context, An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker was a refreshing exception. Nazif, his partner Senada and their two daughters are Roma (Gypsies) who live in a poor, remote community. When Senada is cold, Nazif walks into the forest and cuts down a tree. When they need money for food, he goes to the local dump and salvages iron to be sold nearby. They are helped at every turn by friendly relatives and neighbors. But one day, Senada becomes really ill. At the distant hospital, they learn that she has miscarried, but that the fetus is stuck inside her and she needs an emergency operation. However, despite the fact that Nazif is a war veteran whose brother was killed in the Balkan War, neither he nor Senada has a national health insurance card, and there is no way they can come up with the money to pay for the operation without insurance.
An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker has a significant back story. Despite its tiny ($40,000) budget, it is directed by a major director, Danis Tanović, who won the Academy Award in 2002 for No Man’s Land. Tanović read about Nazif and Senada in a newspaper and was outraged by the poor way they were treated by the government medical system. So he contacted the couple and asked them to recreate their own story. Thus, as it turns out, An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker is actually a reconstructed documentary starring all of the real people involved in the near-tragedy.