When new creative practices arise in using film language, genres, technical and technological possibilities in a moving picture, and consequently in national cinema as a whole, it increases the artistic level of creation, so we can truly talk about shifts in film as a work of art. Every authorial ingenuity that enriches the film is welcome.
The best example of this is The Diary of Diana B., a very particular film directed and co-written by Dana Budisavljević. She was the well-deserved winner at the Pula Film Festival, the best Croatian film according to the jury, the critics and the viewers. It must be noted that this is the first feature film, or more precisely feature-length docu-fiction, by the experienced and successful documentarian and editor Dana Budisavljević. She is the first woman to be awarded the Grand Golden Arena for Best Festival Film and the second woman to win the Golden Arena for Best Director since Croatia’s independence. The film won two more Golden Arenas: one was awarded to Marko Ferković for Best Editing and the other to the brothers Alen and Nenad Sinkauz for Best Music. It also received the Golden Gate of Pula and a film critics’ award by the international organization FEDEORA. After Pula, the film continued to win big at festivals both in Croatia and abroad. A significant number of viewers, over 30,000, watched the film in Croatian theaters, but also abroad, especially in Croatia’s neighboring countries.
The film’s tagline ‘A True Story about the Best People in the Worst Times’ immediately draws attention to very important and very sensitive historical events. Its title, on the other hand, addresses the topic, i.e. the extremely important work and personality of the great humanitarian Diana Budisavljević, unjustly barely known, shown right at the beginning of her completely voluntary and selfless efforts in saving Serbian and Jewish children from concentration camps in the Nazi-occupied Croatia during World War II.
The fictional part of the film is based on Diana Budisavljević’s diary, which has recently been found and published. She was an Austrian Catholic married to Julije Budisavljević, a renowned Orthodox doctor from Zagreb, and a woman who saw all people as being equal and who cared about every human being, especially children. Due to the highly sensitive subject, historical research was conducted over the course of several years. The organizational credit for that goes to the production house Hulahop, which took care of the production and now deals with the distribution of the film. The filmmaker Dana Budisavljević succeeded in creating a very precise, thoughtful and subtle representation of tragic events, free from ideological affiliations, and in skillfully building the plot of the film. Moreover, she managed to gracefully connect the fictional and the documentary genres with archive footage and photographs, making exceptional poetic and aesthetic shifts and creating a remarkable film that is a work of art.
The film is a potent, very moving and shocking drama shot in black-and-white, which proved to be truly appropriate. The fictional part evokes the past, with Diana’s character played by the actress Alma Prica. The documentary part is set in the present moment. It shows the testimonies of four elderly people who survived a concentration camp when they were children: Živko Zelenbrz, Nada Vlaisavljević, Milorad Jandrić and Zorka Janjanin, who, unfortunately, passed away in the meantime. The film also contains shocking archive footage and photographs taken during the period of saving children from concentration camps, on which we can also see brief shots of Diana Budisavljević.
The film is characterized by a very dedicated, balanced, subtle and minimalist artistic signature, which—along with the director’s poetics of skillfully and almost seamlessly merging and intertwining the fictional with the documentary and the archive photographs—also has an articulate aesthetic dimension. This can especially be seen in Jasenko Rasol’s skillful, impressive and even poetic cinematography. It especially stands out in the documentary parts and its deep focus shots with several planes of action and foggy gray nuances. It is in these shots that the four witnesses recall the past. Particularly moving are Živko’s testimony, who does not know any personal data about himself, and Nada’s, to whom as a child the building of the concentration camp appeared as big as a castle. Children’s innocent eyes see differently, and this makes the present encounter with that space even more painful. This part of the film is the best and visually the most beautiful.
How well the film actually did in rescuing the brave and quiet humanitarian Diana Budisavljević from oblivion and in showing her selfless work, could be seen on last year’s Zagreb Film Festival. The films in the PLUS programme, which is dedicated to high school pupils and other youths, are, in fact, chosen by one group of high school pupils, while their peers act as jury members. They showed their maturity first by including the film The Diary of Diana B. in the program, but especially by surprising everyone and declaring it the winner. In their explanation, they mentioned that this film had left the best impression ‘due to its unique story, visual representation and cast’. Also, they would recommend it ‘to all generations for its strong and thought-provoking message. The director’s remarkable signature inspires and captures the viewers.’ Indeed, schools are now willing to show it to their pupils.
This attitude foretells a bright future for our young people both regarding their lives and how they will judge the art of filmmaking as movie buffs. In the same way, Dana Budisavljević’s remarkable film shows that it is possible to make a change, a step forward in creating a first-rate cinematic artwork comprised of different film components, and build a strong film authorship by working hard and nurturing one’s talent. We can be grateful and look forward to her next films.