A Film a Week - Bigger Than Trauma / Veće od traume

 previously published on Cineuropa

Vedrana Pribačić started her professional path as a journalist and worked as a reporter and editor for several Croatian and international TV stations before switching to filmmaking. The highest point in her filmmaking career so far was the 2017 mid-length TV documentary The Factory Is Ours. Her feature-length debut Bigger than Trauma is set to have its international premiere at the upcoming edition of the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, while its world premiere took place on the home turf, in the regional competition of ZagrebDox. Some festival exposure at Croatian and regional festivals should be expected before the film lands on TV, since it was made in co-production with Croatian Radio-Television.

Pribačić opens her film in a conventional way, with onscreen text explaining the known facts about the war in Yugoslavia in the 90s in which former neighbours, friends and spouses became sworn enemies, and a talking head interview with one of her protagonists, Đurđica. She was raped during the war by the people she knew from her hometown of Vukovar, and later entered and completed the empowerment program whose goal was to provide the necessary therapy for women victims of war crimes, where she later mentored new groups of attendees.

In the very next scene, Pribačić switches her approach to something more observational, as we gradually meet the “characters” of this documentary in their home environments and at group therapy sessions. The filmmaker focuses particularly on three women in the sessions, while the rest of the attendees and therapists of different professions, led by Marija Slišković, serve more as background pieces in the mosaic.

One of the women, Marija, was raped by her neighbours while she was their captive and tasked with duties at their headquarters; she felt shame she could not get rid of before she started therapy. Another woman, called Katica, has trust issues due to her trauma, which she hides behind a mask of toughness. The only Serbian woman in the group, Ana, was taken in captivity by the Serbian army and, while incarcerated and raped repeatedly, her Serbian neighbours ravaged her house. She suffers from loneliness and feels the urge to use verbal aggression to defend herself whenever she feels attacked by anyone. The film tells their story and the slow and painful process of their healing; only at the end do we learn that this successful program was discontinued due to a lack of funds.

Bigger Than Trauma might not be flashy in any way, but it is crafty enough due to Pribačić’s deft directing, and the framing that comes from the script she co-wrote with the film’s producer Mirta Puhlovski. Camerawork by cinematographer Dario Hacek serves the film well: unobtrusive, it provides the sense the characters are keen to open up to it. The sure-handed editing by Marta Broz, meanwhile, deserves praise for the sense of continuity it creates within each scene. The choice to have different ethno-sounding melodies as each character’s “theme” (selected by producer-screenwriter Puhlovski) occasionally feels wrong, but works well when an emotional key is used for decoding them. In the end, Bigger Than Trauma certainly is a heartfelt documentary that favours the characters’ emotions, their individual stories as well the one they share, over the film’s style.

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