“Dara Of Jasenovac is equally beautiful as it is brutal.”
Over the past few years, there have been several films that deal with the atrocities of The Holocaust during World War II, whether it be a serious first-person account of Sonderkommandos at Aushwitz in Son Of Saul, a drama with a creature in The Man Who Killed Hitler And Then Bigfoot, and even the Oscar-winning anti-hate comedy Jojo Rabbit. All of these movies have dealt with the horrors that took place in the early 40s, but film director Predrag Antonijević gives the first take of the sadistic elements that happened at the Jasenovac concentration camp with his new film Dara Of Jasenovac, which is equally beautiful as it is brutal. This film is only but another account that has gone under the radar for many years that gives a true account of what happened in Croatia when Hitler was in charge.
Dara Of Jasenovac takes its cues and stories from actual testimonies and accounts from survivors that follows the war crimes and extermination camps during the Holocaust that became the genocide of Serbs led by the Axis called the Kozara Offensive, which ended up in Croatia. Most of the local Serb population ended up at this camp in Jasenovac, which was not just a concentration camp, but an extermination camp that was completely run by the Axis and not German Nazi soldiers. Additionally, all of the young kids were taken from their parents here and forced into their own camp where most of them were viciously tortured and killed. This is the small slice of WWII that Antonijević covers in his great film that adds some artistic beauty to the chaos, real-life atrocities, and even some modern political statements.
The film starts right in the thick of things with a twelve-year-old girl named Dara being transported via boxcar to the Jasenovac camp with her mother and two brothers. Her father is nearby being forced to sort the dead. Upon arrival, Dara’s family of four becomes two with only her and her infant brother Budo still alive. From here, she vows to keep him alive and survive this horrific experience as she plans an escape. Antonijević has created an intense maze for Dara to navigate through, crossing paths with homicidal soldiers, wicked nuns, and other prisoners. It’s not a happy image by any means as Dara and Budo are consistently witnessing pure evil. carried out by these soldiers in charge.
One sequence showcases a game of musical chairs where prisoners are forced to compete in the game, where each loser is either bludgeoned by a large hammer or has their throat sliced open. All of this takes place in front of a fancy dinner where nazi soldiers attend this Axis camp and even though the brutality is at an all-time high, the soldiers keep smiling and eating their dinner as if it were any other day of the week, completely oblivious to human life and the cruelty they are inflicting. These are the things that actually happened during this time and is just one of thousands upon thousands of stories that took place. Antonijević also gives an artistic brush to the film where when one of the main character’s die, there is a fantasy sequence that seems like heaven, but it’s anything but, which is set in white snow where a boxcar sits with the dead inside, waiting for the next occupant. While it’s serene and far from the chaos of the camp, there is still no freedom, but only peace in their death, and it’s a beautiful way to reveal what Antonijevic’s vision of an afterlife during this time was.
Biljana Čekić who plays the young Dara is utterly phenomenal in this role. she carries this truly heavy role with grace and ease and her character struggles with all of the evil surrounding her, while her love for her brother is ever-present. Antonijevic uses his cameras for sweeping shots of the landscape that sometimes feels like a serene and gorgeous nature film, but once on the ground, malevolence is the key theme. Dara Of Jasenovac is a necessary look into the past of a truly horrific time for a large number of people and Antonijevic uses some of the film to tell a more modern tale of government abuse among its people that’s all inside a beautiful looking film.
Written by: Bryan Kluger