Sunday, February 7, 2021

Movie with Abe: Dara of Jasenovac

Dara of Jasenovac
Directed by Predrag Antonijevic
Released February 5, 2021 (Theaters)

One of the most important functions of storytelling and cinema is to share experiences from history with future generations so that they can begin to understand what humanity is capable of, distant and unimaginable as it may seem. The idea that something has already been showcased in a similar way previously can be valid, but there are also new elements and teachings to be drawn from individual stories that may differ in terms of approach and certainly when it comes to the people involved. Their contents may not be pleasant, but bringing difficult material to audiences can also be necessary.

At ten years old, Dara (Biljana Čekić) is sent to the concentration camps of Jasenovac, a system operated not by the Nazis but by the Croatian Ustase government and designed to persecute Serbs, Jews, and Roma. Dara looks out for her baby brother, trying desperately to keep him alive as they are surrounded by horrific acts of torment from the cruel and brutal guards at the camp who take pleasure in ensuring that those they are imprisoning are suffering as much as possible.

It’s difficult to describe this film as anything but grueling, even if Dara’s story is meant to inspire hope in the face of such evil. Compared even with other films about the Holocaust, this one feels particularly painful, presenting a series of situations in which the prisoners are forced to participate in torturous games in which all outcomes lead to a harsh and violent death. That these this kind of unspeakable behavior did occur makes its representation here valid, but audiences should be cautioned this film is immensely disturbing.

As a representation of a horrible part of history, this film serves a worthwhile purpose. As Serbia’s official Oscar submission for Best International Feature, this film shines an important light on the willing role of the Ustase in the extermination of those they deemed undesirable, just as complicit as the Nazis in their acts of ethnic cleansing. Upsetting as it is, this film is indeed well-made, strongly recreating a miserable place and moment in history. The way in which it uses a haunting visual motif representing the enormous loss of life and the interpretation of what that means through a child’s eyes is effective and powerful, paying tribute to the many who were killed whose names and identities will never be known.


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