Amazingly based on a true story, The Poll Diaries plumbs the depths of the human condition using protagonist Oda as its main focus. Discussing rarely seen topics, the film uses the Baltic coast as a backdrop for Oda’s experiences in Poll just before the start of the first world war in 1914. An older and more knowing Oda narrates intermittently, providing hindsight to a beautifully crafted film.
The brutal eugenics work of her father Ebbo, dismissed by many of his contemporaries, is muted by Oda’s admiration for him, her enthusiasm to learn from him numbing the shock of his barbaric attempts to discover the physical attributes of evil. Oda speaks of screaming into her diary but we’re given the feeling it is not because of her father’s work, but is because of the loneliness she suffers in her new home and it is this that forms the crux of the story.
While she wills away her days in the gloomy atmosphere the film envokes, she happens across an injured Estonian anarchist. Unbeknownst to them, his comrades have fallen victim to Ebbo’s work and the pair quickly form a relationship reminiscent of that shared between Pip and Magwitch in Great Expectations. Oda nurses the affectionately named Schnapps back to health and they form an unlikely friendship that threatens the fragile peace in Poll.
Thanks to the film’s impacting performances the characters in The Poll Diaries really breathe life into the story. We find women struggling against their subjection to men, a family forcing an outwardly happy façade in the face of the gloom that engulfs them as well as slow burning tension that mounts into a thrilling and touching finalé.
Although the subject matter is bleak and Oda tends to dwell on the subject of mortality, the film is engrossing and thoroughly enjoyable. The setting allows for some beautifully impressive visuals whilst the soundtrack intensifies the emotions displayed. For a film about the abyss found in life and the eventual end we will all meet, The Poll Diaries is affecting and moving and reminds us of the beauty to be found in the everyday.