A Film a Week - Hold Me Right / Zaceli me

 previously published on Cineuropa

In 2012, actress Danijela Štajnfeld was raped by a man whom she described as influential and powerful within the ranks of Serbian cinema and culture. She then left Serbia, where she was considered to be a rising star of stage theatre, television and cinema, thanks to her roles in popular films like Ivko’s Feast (2005) and The Wounded Eagle (2009), and moved to the United States to start her life and career afresh. She did not talk about the rape for years. The documentary Hold Me Right that she has made has proven to be an integral, even essential, part of her recovery.

The film premiered at last year’s virtual edition of the Sarajevo Film Festival, and the identity of Štajnfeld’s rapist was the talk of the town, since she did not reveal it either in the film (where his voice was heavily processed so as not to be recognisable) or during numerous interviews. She only disclosed it this March, before the scheduled Serbian premiere at the Martovski Festival in Belgrade (the festival itself was moved from March to April), and it turned out to be Branislav Lečić, the star actor and former Minister of Culture. Štajnfeld’s accusations contributed to the movement against rape and sexual harassment within acting circles in a number of former Yugoslav countries, which started with multiple actresses’ accusations that well-known Belgrade acting teacher Miroslav Aleksić raped them when they were underage.

Štajnfeld opens her documentary, which has now had an airing at ZagrebDox, with a phone call to her mother during which she admits she was raped years ago in Serbia, but she now feels okay to speak about it. She also states her intention to make a documentary with other rape victims in America in order to help them, and herself, deal with the trauma.

Those victims are three women and two men who also survived instances of rape. One, a policewoman, was raped by her superior; she did not have the support of her colleagues, and she was forced to quit her job. Another woman suffered marital rape, andher husband was later sentenced to seven years in prison for the act. The third woman was raped at the age of 15, and her boyfriend at the time even waged a campaign against her because he didn’t believe her. One of the men, who is gay, was taken by surprise and by force, and raped at a party, but no one believed him. The other man, a marine, was raped by his navy colleagues at the age of 17, leaving his life in tatters. Štajnfeld also interviews three convicted rapists, trying to find some compassion for them. Two of them still have trouble admitting their guilt, while the third, a former sexual abuse victim himself, does realise what he has done.

The interviews and talks are interspersed with excerpts from Danijela’s own video diary, from 2012 up until years later, in which she explains how she deals with her own trauma, making her connection to the interviewees completely organic. The interviews and Štajnfeld’s testimonies to the camera are also mixed with two types of animation, one that serves as an illustration of the trauma that the victims had to endure, and the other in the form of an old video game that helps with the film’s structure. With the interesting sound design consisting of montages of testimonies, and the tension-inducing, pulsating electronic musical score by Jason Binnick and Christian Ruggiero, edited masterfully into the rest of the material by Štajnfeld and Kelsey Lynne Payne, it is clear that Hold Me Right is not just a serviceable documentary on an important subject, but also a deeply personal, well-crafted and gripping one.

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