Based on the 1962 novel by Arnośt Lustig, this film, also from Czechoslovakia, is about an eighteen-year-old girl in postwar Prague after her internment in a Nazi death camp. Survival is a matter of historical perspective; soon afterwards, Dita Saxová throws herself off a cliff to her death.
Why? For one thing, among European Jews survival of the Holocaust incurred a burden of guilt for such survival; by what right did survivors escape the fate of the Six Million? Although part of a community of orphans like herself, Dita felt terribly alone; moreover, ironically, at 18 she was deemed too old for foster or adoptive parentage. She was out on her own. But perhaps the overwhelming impetus for suicide came from her place on time’s continuum. With such a past as she had endured, Dita found that this horrible recent past exerted greater influence on her spirit than the hopefulness of a vague, ill-defined future. What was left? Through death, Dita could become part of the destiny she eluded.
Director Antonín Moskalyk frequently has Dita face the camera in a near-catatonic state, a trance, say, in which, we infer, she is absenting herself from the present and communing with her past. Flashback inserts show a much younger Dita with her parents. In the present, Dita all-but-parents a younger version of herself; we begin to wonder: Is this child really someone else, or is Dita, in a surreal groove, interacting with her childhood self in an attempt to forge a fresh integrity from the fragments of her personality?
Lustig felt that Dita might have appeared happy throughout, compelling more active audience inquiry as to why she committed suicide. Moskalyk’s moody film, however, does make us ask and answer—and feel the burden that Dita silently toted.
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