“Dara of Jasenovac” (Dara iz Jasenovca) is a technical beauty, but leaves us wondering about the purpose and effect of Holocaust films moving forward
Serbia’s official submission for the 2021 Academy Awards, Dara of Jasenovac, reminds us that no matter how many Holocaust films are made, there are important details and individual stories that have not yet been represented on the screen. Directed by Predrag Antonijević, Dara of Jasenovac is the first film about the Jasenovac complex in The Independent State of Croatia during the 1940s, which was run by the fascist Ustase government and used for the systematic murder of ethnic Serbs, Jews, and Roma people. While the film’s protagonist, 10-year-old Dara (Biljana Čekić), is not based on a specific historical person, the filmmakers chose to tell the story from a child’s perspective to emphasize the fact that there were specific camps in Jasenovac for children. The film begins when Dara is first transported to the complex along with her mother, infant brother, and other people from her village. She is subsequently moved through different facilities, gradually coming to understand the evil unfolding around her as those who entered the camp with her are killed one by one. Taking on more responsibility than she should ever have to bear, Dara resolves to do everything she can to keep her brother alive.
As far as its purpose of telling a story that has yet to be shared on screen, Dara of Jasenovac is fairly successful. The movie highlights details that were specific to the situation in Jasenovac, such as the role of the Catholic church in the operation of the camp, and it is evident that Antonijević conducted extensive historical research before he began production. Dara of Jasenovac is also a technical success, excelling in each category from acting to cinematography and music. Eleven-year-old Čekić, who was selected for the part of Dara from among hundreds of non-professional actresses from rural Bosnia, expresses emotional integrity and strength well beyond her years. Čekić displays a quiet and steadfast resolve as Dara focuses all her energy on saving her brother, making it easy to forget just how young Dara is supposed to be. Čekić does everything that the script requires of her and more.
However, I wonder if the story would have been more successful if it had required something different from Dara. Dara of Jasenovac wants to tell a story from a child’s perspective, and it certainly starts off this way. But as the story continues, Dara becomes one of several characters that we simply observe from a distance, despite the fact that she gets the most screen time. Ultimately, the story is not told from her perspective, but rather, it is told from an outsider’s perspective that simply focuses on Dara and glorifies her strength in an almost Madonna-like way. As soon as Dara arrives in Jasenovac, her maturity and determination seem to come out of nowhere. It’s not that she sheds herself of all childish concerns in the midst of complete terror, but it’s like she never had such childlike concerns to begin with. While there’s nothing wrong with recognizing the strength of survivors, this sort of glorification distances us from Dara by making her into an angelic hero rather than a dynamic figure who represents the lives of real children who were subjected to absolute evil and injustice. Without a realistic human figure for us to identify with, we are distanced from the horrors of the Holocaust and protected from feeling any kind of personal responsibility towards our fellow humans today. Despite Antonijević’s best intentions, Dara of Jasenovac is just a bit too emotionally neat, as if it was made to benefit the audience with a gratifying catharsis rather than to challenge and convict them through a child’s perspective.
It is also worth mentioning that one of Dara of Jasenovac’s most violent scenes, which depicts a horrific game of deadly musical chairs that some of the adult prisoners are forced to play for the guards’ sadistic amusement, takes a strange turn in tone that makes the film as a whole difficult to figure out. Based on the press notes provided for Dara of Jasenovac, it’s clear that Antonijević understood the problems in presenting this specific event on screen and carefully considered how to honor the truth without glorifying violence. He makes a wise choice in changing some of the details of this historical account for the screen (the prisoners involved in real life were children and not adults), however the scene still seems to take pleasure in violence as it juxtaposes this event with both birth and sex. The film seems to be a little too pleased with itself as it places Dara in the middle of all these thematic binaries. Additionally, the festive music, dramatic lighting, and the depiction of bloodshed itself all create a sudden and inappropriate satirical tone that, considering how serious the rest of the film is, simply don’t fit in.
Aside from that scene, there’s no doubt that Antonijević has directed a beautiful film that is, by many standards, a success. However, while Dara of Jasenovac memorializes a specific part of the Holocaust that should definitely be remembered, we are at a point in the production of Holocaust cinema where we must get past the practice of simply putting forth images that the audience recognizes as horrific. We can’t just tell stories that inspire. We must also ask audiences to evaluate themselves, take responsibility, and recognize any part they might play in the injustices of society today.
In select theatres now
For more information and screening locations, visit the film's official site.
2/8/2021 10:07:37 am
The purpose of this particular holocaust movie is to show well hidden truth about Nazi Croatia, and about Jasenovac concentration camp, which was one of biggest death camps in Europe during WWII. The fact that nobody knows about it outside of former Jugoslavia is good enough reason to ask yourself about the history you think you know.
2/8/2021 03:30:13 pm
Serbian Nazi fascists worked closely with German Nazi officials in making Belgrade the first ‘Judenfrei’ city of Europe by mid-1942.
2/8/2021 04:06:20 pm
Ok since there is no end to your madness, I'm posting a link so people can see on their own how those Nazis entered Zagreb, capitol of Croatia, and how they entered Belgrade, capitol of Serbia. I think this French clip show's pretty good how was pro Nazi back then.
2/8/2021 10:51:29 pm
Something is really wrong with you "Ane" - all your comments all over the internet are "Ustasa" comments! Are you one of them???
2/17/2021 04:11:15 pm
This movie is a cry for Greater Serbia from the 90's, and has nothing to do with the truth
2/8/2021 01:06:27 pm
Do You know who is financed this movie?
2/8/2021 01:23:45 pm
"...In 2019., the Serbian army wanted to enter in Croatian with hiding the uniforms in the trunk of a car to make this film? Is that normal?"
2/8/2021 02:11:34 pm
Everything that I written is true and you cannot refute me in any fact. Even Josip Broz Tito, who was the president right after WWII of Yugoslavia, did not visit Jasenovac, it's all manipulation.
2/8/2021 01:09:49 pm
How many people outside former YU knew about this place? Almost none! There is no hidden agenda, behind this movie, only agenda is that Jasenovac was Auschwitz of Balkans, and that all victims deserve justice and not to be forgotten! Croatia was and still is fascist state, only state during ww2 who had concentration camps for children!
2/8/2021 02:21:27 pm
The fascist idea is in the Serbian heads and who wants to take over half of the entire Balkans. Jasenovac has never been explored but Vukovar and Srebrenica is... After Serbia lost the war against Croatia in 1995, since then Serbia cannot regret that Croatia is an independent state. The proof that Serbia is lying is that they do not want to foreign experts to come to Jasenovac and investigate that area, even if they come from Serbia. Serbia does not want that because it is easier to manipulate like this, through the media.
2/8/2021 02:29:30 pm
That is just sick to think like you do. I have no words for people like you, good luck with your crazy head. Not planning to discuss any further with you.
2/17/2021 02:50:06 pm
Belgrade (Serbia) hides archives in Belgrade and does not allow the public to see the truth from period 1940-1946. Do you know why? Because the real truth would be found out and it would be seen to be a movie "Dara of Jasenovac" is LIE. Let historians around the world ask Serbia to give them archives from the WWII post-war period,and let historians around the world ask Serbia for independent experts from all over the world, including Serbia, to investigate Jasenovac. People around the world need to know that Serbia opposes ideas that independent historians investigating Jasenovac, as well as to open all archives in Belgrade. The question is why Serbia is afraid of that??? Are they afraid of the truth?? Personally, I would like to explore Jasenovac and put an end to that period.
2/17/2021 03:08:32 pm
That is such a lie!!! How dumb and brainwashed you people are!? My ancestors are from Potkozarje! You sit there and you trying to change my mind regarding Jasenovac!? You stupid or something? Secret files in Belgrade?! Dumb idiot, if you want to believe that BS go ahead, I don't expect nothing better from you people. There is documentation that was hidden, not by Belgrade but by Communist regime in former Yugoslavia. Don't worry, soon enough all will be revealed, and then you will not be so cocky. Here is one document amoung many that can be accessed in Rome. This is a Italian general writing to facshist Mussolini. Feel free to read you might learn how evil where ustashas during WW2.
2/17/2021 04:07:08 pm
Telling someone he's stupid or Dumb idiot says more about what kind of person you are than me. I obviously said the truth, and truth hurts you.
2/24/2021 02:00:46 pm
Every Serbian victim should be respected, but only thing that this movie has achieved is that many my Serbs started writing on social networks that they will try to create a greater Serbia again as in the 90s. They send messages of hatred towards Croats and say that Croats should be exterminated. They talk on television in Serbia about how the earthquake that happened in Croatia is God's punishment. And that all was the purpose of the movies.I am afraid that Serbia will try the same thing it tried in the 90s
2/24/2021 02:23:13 pm
OMG!!! This is the worst case of someone pretending to be Serbian. It's almost embarrassing 😂. Milorad Is Serbian as much as I am Japanese. Greater Serbia? TV shows with messages that earthquake in Croatia was god's punishment!? Man you really are for some serious examination by psychiatrist. People can figure out that this is truth, it's easily checkable online, and not from Serbian sources. So I'm over and out from here. I don't want to give these sickos any more space and time.
Yugo Rodna Grudo
2/25/2021 11:59:22 am
I as a Croat will not deny Jasenovac. Nobody can deny it because it happened. Croatian people are commemorating its victims every year.
2/25/2021 01:50:43 pm
Ok this is my final reply here.
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