Sunday, January 27, 2013

Lea and Daria

Lea i Darija; drama, Croatia, 2011; D: Branko Ivanda, S: Klara Naka, Tammy Zajec, Zrinka Cvitešić, Linda Begonja

Zagreb on the eve of World War II. Lea Deutsch is a 13-year old Jewish girl who is member of the Children's Empire, a theatre group for kids who perform on stage. Lea's singing and acting are so charming that the group gets hired to play in the Croatian National Theatre. She meets Daria Gasteiger, a German girl, who is equally as talented. Even though they are rivals at first, they become friends and perform together in the Hensel and Gretel play. However, after the Axis invasion, racial laws are installed, which forbid Lea from performing, devastating her. Nonetheless, Daria remains her friend. Lea, her mother, brother and sister die in a waggon on the way to Auschwitz. Daria's family leaves Yugoslavia a few years later, during the persecution of Germans after World War II.

"Lea & Daria" is an appropriately crafted biopic about the "Croatian Shirley Temple", the Jewish girl Lea Deutsch whose career (and life) were interrupted by the Holocaust. Director Branko Ivanda shows an elegant sense for a natural story flow, assisted by the costume designers and make up artists who conjured up Zagreb and its society in the 30s of the 20th century, and one has to mention the great casting choice of the two main actresses, Klara Naka and Tammy Zajec, who are truly irresistibly cute as the child performers Lea and Daria, and also show a fine talent in dancing. Despite her rather narrow role, Zrinka Cvitesic also delivered a fine performance as Lea's mother, especially in the later stages of the film, when the emotional toll starts to take the centre role. The sequence where Lea and Daria watch a Fred Astaire movie in the cinema, and cannot help but to tap with their feet in tune to the music while sitting, is probably the best example of their unusual friendship (Daria was German), yet the storyline is slightly uneven there because it decided to split 40 % of its time on their lives before the war, and 60 % during the war, thereby eventually consolidating the story revolving around only about Lea, and increasingly forgetting about Daria. The dark, grimm 60 % of the latter half of the movie indeed has weight (the scene where a sad Lea sits on a bench for hours and observes the national theatre, because she is now banned from entering it), yet it is still a pity the movie was so scarce about their careers in the first place, since it would have been more satisfying to see the two girls act in Hensel and Gretel in at least one elaborated sequence, instead of just reducing their cooperation to 10 second clips.


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