Toothless Bosnian gypsy finds fame with unlikely accolade
POLJICE, Bosnia-Herzegovina — People in this Gypsy village say they will never forget the night they almost fell off their chairs two months ago.
Did they really hear the elegant woman on TV correctly? Could she really be talking about their neighbor, the toothless man who passed his days selling scrap metal?
The camera switched to a frightened-looking Nazif Mujic.
Yes it was him. Their Nazif — who had just left Matt Damon and Jude Law in the dust to win the best actor award at the Berlin Film Festival.
Suddenly, he was clambering onto the stage, receiving congratulations from the presenters and kissing his Silver Bear. The nearly illiterate 42-year-old gypsy trembled as he squeezed out a few words of gratitude to “my best friend Danis Tanovic” — the director of “An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker,” in which Mujic played himself.
Back home, old and young poured out of their shabby homes, chanting “Naze! Naze!” — Mujic’s nickname — dancing in the snow and making plans to roll a red carpet over the muddy road and roast a lamb in honor of their homegrown movie star when he returned home.
“Everybody was glued to his TV that night,” said Ismet Beganovic.
The movie is a fictionalized account of Mujic’s real-life struggle to save his wife’s life after she had a miscarriage. Doctors refused to treat her because the couple had neither health insurance nor the 500 euros demanded for the surgery.
A newspaper article about their struggle drew Tanovic’s attention and inspired him to shoot the film.
“I hope his life will change forever,” the Academy Award-winning director told reporters after Mujic’s stunning win.
It certainly changed instantly.
While the Berlin awards party dragged into the night, Mujic struggled to understand the Wonderland in which he found himself. The food was good, he remembers, and everybody was pretty and pleasant — except for one annoying guy who followed him around wherever he went. “I would step out to smoke a cigarette, he would come after me,” Mujic recalled. “I would go to the bathroom, he followed me again. Wherever I went, he went.”
Convinced that the huge man was interested in his statuette, Mujic said he resolved that next time he went to the bathroom he would turn and say: “Here, take the damn Bear, but let me do my business in peace.”
He didn’t need to. Festival organizers explained that the “stalker” was his personal bodyguard — and that all of the stars got one.
Now, two months later, next to porcelain figurines of a roaring lion and a sitting dog, the Silver Bear statuette decorates a shelf in Mujic’s living room.
Nazif still takes apart old cars and refrigerators in his front yard to sell as scrap, but he also cruises Roma settlements and gives speeches on the importance of going to school. Mujic has received a thousand-euro donation from the municipality and a few piles of brick for a new house — reward for the glory he brought to the community.
Perhaps the biggest gift: a decent set of dentures, paid for by a Sarajevo butcher. They’ll be ready later this month.
Would Mujic consider a career in movies? Yes, he said, “except in porn.”
“It was a fairy tale,” Mujic said, sipping his coffee and watching his 4-year-old daughter Sandra driving the Silver Bear — which she named “Teddy” — around the house in her plastic doll stroller.
Mujic’s wife, Senada Alimanovic, watched the award ceremony on TV back at home, but finds the whole story about her movie-star husband less romantic.
“What did Teddy really bring us?” she asked while holding the couple’s youngest child, an 8-month-old boy named Danis, after the director, in her lap.
“The fridge is empty. I have never been rich and I do not need a fortune but just normal living conditions for my children,” she said. “Maybe less of a dump of a home.”
“Slowly,” her husband replied. “When Danis sells the movie, he said we will get a share and we will move somewhere.
“He would never lie.”