When Father Was Away on Business (Serbo-Croatian: Otac na službenom putu/Отац на службеном путу) is a 1985 Yugoslav film by director Emir Kusturica. The screenplay was written by the Bosnian dramatist Abdulah Sidran. Its subtitle is A Historical Love Film and it was produced by Centar Film and Forum, production companies based in Sarajevo.
Set in post-World War II Yugoslavia during the Informbiro period, the film tells the story from the perspective of a boy, Malik, whose father Meša (Miki Manojlović) was sent to a labour camp. When Father Was Away on Business won the Palme d'Or at the 1985 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
In June 1950, a local neighbourhood drunk Čika Franjo serenades field workers. He sings Mexican songs, out of self-preservation, figuring it's safer for him to steer clear of songs originating from either of the two dominant global powers — the United States and Soviet Union — in the current climate of Cold War. Yugoslavia is experiencing a paranoid repressive internal apparatus looking to identify and remove enemies of the state in the wake of the Tito–Stalin Split. The local children, including Malik, climb trees and play around. Malik's mother Sena tells him that his father is on a business trip, while Malik is a chronic sleepwalker. His father, communist functionary Meša, was in fact sent to a labour camp by his own brother-in-law, Sena's brother Zijo, who's an even higher positioned Communist functionary. Meša had made a remark about a political cartoon regarding the Tito–Stalin Split in the Politika newspaper.
After a while, Meša's wife and children rejoin him in Zvornik. Malik meets Maša, the daughter of a Russian doctor. He falls in love with her, but last sees her when the ambulance takes her away.
At the wedding of his maternal uncle Fahro, Malik witnesses his father's affair with a woman pilot. She later tries to commit suicide by using a toilet's flush cord. Sena reconciles with her brother Zijah, who's been diagnosed with diabetes.
In The New York Times, Janet Maslin credited the film for " a humorous, richly detailed portrait" of its characters. Time critic Richard Corliss said the film was worth seeing despite the lack of glamorous settings or characters. Variety staff called it "rather witty commentary" and compared it to Czechoslovak comedy films in the 1960s.
In his 2015 Movie Guide, Leonard Maltin awarded it three and a half stars, praising it as "Captivating". In 2016, The Hollywood Reporter ranked it the 26th best film to win the Palme d'Or, citing it for depicting how "humor and the almost mystical power of family trumps all."
When Father Was Away on Business marked Emir Kusturica's first time winning the Palme d'Or, the highest honour at the Cannes Film Festival. He won his second in 1995 for Underground.