A Film a Week - The Diary of Diana B. / Dnevnik Diane Budisavljević

previously published on Cineuropa

The life and work of the Austrian-Croatian humanitarian Diana Budisavljević who saved over 10.000 children from the perils of Ustashi concentration camps during the World War 2 was and still is one of the best kept secrets in Croatia. Her wartime actions are the topic of Dana Budisavljević's (albeit the similarities regarding the names, the two women are not related) feature-length debut, the docu-fiction hybrid The Diary of Diana B. The film world-premiered at the competition of Pula.

Its heavy topic and unique style makes it a bit of a hard sale for wider distribution. However, the film should see a healthy dose of festival exposure as well as a cinema release in the region of former Yugoslavia.

Budisavljević opens the film with a quote from the source diary in which Diana sums up her engagement stating that the hardships were endured only because of the sheer amount of work that left no place to think about them. The first sense of them is provided in the first scene combining the off-screen narration of a man, now in his 70's or 80's, telling that he has no memories of his early childhood, his parents and his birthplace, and a long meditative shot of a simple boat gliding down the river in the mist, shot in 16:9 aspect ratio and in shades of grey sort of black and white.

From there, we jump back in time to 1943 where we see Diana, played by Croatian versatile actress Alma Prica, working on her archive in a dramatic re-enactment scene where black and white cinematography seems more crispier. From that moment on, The Diary jumps forwards and backwards in time, using a variety of techniques to present Diana's struggle first to provide the aid to the women of the proscribed Orthodox faith (and Serbian ancestry) in Nazi-backed Croatian Independent State that were interned in camps, and then to save the children from the notorious Jasenovac and Stara Gradiška death camps.

The understated dramatic parts are competently done, also somewhat due to the use of authentic locations and objects, and they feature a number of recognizable actors and actresses from all over the former Yugoslavia, like Igor Samobor (of Class Enemy fame) playing Diana's somewhat gullible Orthodox-Serbian surgeon husband Julije, Mirjana Karanović (Esma's Song, A Good Wife) playing their relative Mira, Ermin Bravo (In the Land of Blood and Honey, Men Don't Cry) as a sympathetic government official Breslar and the stage actor Livio Badurina as the controversial Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac. However, the emotional impact that makes The Diary of Diana Budisavljević a remarkably strong piece of cinema comes from its documentary parts: archival footage of Diana's visits to the camps and key political moments of the time, narration from the diary and the testimonies of the survivors, then children, now elderly people Živko Zelenbrz, Zorka Janjanin, Milorad Jandrić and Nada Vlaisavljević, both on and off-screen, evocatively shot to perfection by Jasenko Rasol and set against the melancholic and contemplative string score by Alen and Nenad Sinkauz (The High Sun).

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