Review by Camden Ferrell
Dara of Jasenovac is Serbia’s official submission for the Best International Film category at this year’s Academy Awards. This movie comes from veteran director Predrag Antonijevic. Covering an often overlooked and horrific aspect of the Holocaust era, this movie succeeds in telling the story of a young girl’s perseverance through tragedy.
In the 1940’s, Dara is a young girl who experiences the horrors of the Holocaust firsthand when her family is taken to a concentration camp. This camp is not run by Germans, but it is run by the Ustase, a fascist Croatian group. Dara must protect her infant brother from the horrors that surround her, and she must find the courage and strength to endure a series of unspeakable tragedies.
The film works significantly because it tells a story that doesn’t get told very often. Many Holocaust films concern Nazi concentration camps, and there aren’t many that cover the other inhumane camps that were run elsewhere. It’s a really fascinating premise that is very educational especially to those not familiar with Eastern Europe in this era.
The film is led by a young but remarkably talented Biljana Cekic. The subject matter is extremely intense, but she handles it miraculously. It’s impressive to see her slowly portray the mental exhaustion and anguish of her character with such power. The other highlight of this film is Zlatan Vidovic who plays Dara’s father in a separate subplot. He also does a great job of presenting the pain and longing that many people suffered during this time when they were separated from their families.
Antonijevic’s direction is very confident and refined. He executes his scenes well, and he usually maintains a steady pace. The film can feel a little slow in certain sections, but this compensated by some truly horrific yet well done sequences.
The script, written by Natasa Drakulic, is rather reserved. Dialogue isn’t too prevalent, but this works in the film’s favor. It seems as if the script prefers to revel in speechless horror that aims to transcend the screen. While the writing is strong, there are moments that don’t flow very well and can sometimes drag certain scenes and moments down.
Despite its few flaws, this film is a brutal watch. It features many gut-wrenching and tragic moments that highlight how horrific these camps truly were. This violence and inhumanity is not gratuitous as its integral in telling this story and portraying this part of history that is often overlooked.
Dara of Jasenovac is a great Holocaust movie with strong themes and great performances. It has some amazing and disturbing sequences that really elevate it. Despite its occasionally sluggish pace, it is a film worth checking out this February.
Dara of Jasenovac is in select theaters February 5.