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PULA 2019

Review: The Diary of Diana B.

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- Dana Budisavljević tells the emotional story of a forgotten World War II humanitarian in a strong docu-fiction hybrid piece of cinema

Review: The Diary of Diana B.
Alma Prica in The Diary of Diana B.

The life and work of Austrian-Croatian humanitarian Diana Budisavljević, who saved over 10,000 children from the perils of Ustasha concentration camps during World War II, was and still is one of the best-kept secrets in Croatia. Her wartime actions are the topic of Dana Budisavljević's (despite their similar names, the two women are not related) feature-length debut, the docu-fiction hybrid The Diary of Diana B. [+see also:
trailer
interview: Dana Budisavljević
film profile
]
The film had its world premiere in competition at the Pula Film Festival and ended up scooping four Golden Arenas (see the news).

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Its heavy topic and unique style make 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 picture with a quote from the source diary in which Diana sums up her engagement, stating that she could only endure those hardships because the sheer amount of work she had to do left her no time to think about them. The first sense of those difficulties is provided in the film’s first scene which combines the off-screen narration of a man, now in his 70s or 80s, explaining that he has no memories of his early childhood, his parents or his birthplace, with a long meditative shot of a simple boat gliding down a river in the mist, shot in 16:9 aspect ratio and in shades of grey.

From there, we jump back in time to 1943 where we see Diana, played by versatile Croatian actress Alma Prica, working on her archive in a dramatic re-enactment where the black-and-white cinematography appears sharper. 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 aid to the women of the proscribed Orthodox faith (and Serbian ancestry) in the Nazi-backed Croatian Independent State, who were interned in camps, and then to save children from the notorious Jasenovac and Stara Gradiška death camps.

The understated dramatic re-enactments are efficiently realised, in part due to the use of authentic locations and objects. They feature a number of recognizable actors and actresses from all over former Yugoslavia, such as Igor Samobor (of Class Enemy [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Rok Biček
interview: Rok Bicek
interview: Rok Bicek
film profile
]
fame) playing Diana's somewhat gullible Orthodox-Serbian surgeon husband Julije, Mirjana Karanović (Grbavica [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Barbara Albert
interview: Jasmila Zbanic
film profile
]
, A Good Wife [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
) playing their relative Mira, Ermin Bravo (In the Land of Blood and Honey, Men Don't Cry [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Alen Drljević
film profile
]
) as sympathetic government official Breslar, and stage actor Livio Badurina as the controversial Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac. However, the emotional impact that makes The Diary of Diana B. a remarkably strong piece of cinema comes from its documentary parts, set against the melancholic and contemplative string score by Alen and Nenad Sinkauz (The High Sun [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Dalibor Matanic
interview: Tihana Lazovic
film profile
]
): archival footage of Diana's visits to the camps and key political moments of the time, narration from the diary, and testimonies from the survivors, children at the time but now elderly (Živko Zelenbrz, Zorka Janjanin, Milorad Jandrić and Nada Vlaisavljević), who also appear on screen and are evocatively shot by Jasenko Rasol.

Written by Dana Budisavljević and Jelena Paljan, based on the source diary, the film is a Croatian-Serbian-Slovenian co-production staged by Hulahop, December and This&That Production, with support from the Croatian Audio-Visual Centre (HAVC), Eurimages, the MEDIA programme, the Slovenian Film Centre (SFC), the Film Centre of Serbia (FCS) and the Ministry of Culture of Serbia. It has not been picked up for sales yet.

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