“Quo Vadis, Aida?” won an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film for its flawless narrative of a terrible slice of Bosnian War history. It opens with a chariot driving over a tree on the outskirts of the town of Srebrenica in New Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is the summer of 1995 and we learn that the Serbian military forces are transforming the region into a “vast slaughterhouse” for Bosnian Muslims.
The leaders of the Dutch UN peacekeeping forces Colonel Karremans (Johan Heldenbergh) and Major Franken (Raymond Thiry) promise that NATO airstrikes will stop the advance of Serbian troops and insist on the fact that Srebrenica is a UN designated safe area. But air cover never arrived and citizens fled their homes before the advance of General Mladić’s (Boris Isaković) troops. The mayor is unceremoniously shot dead outside his apartment and Mladić declares the town “a gift to the Serbian people” in a propaganda video he shoots about his genocidal campaign.
Our heroine, Aida (Jasna Đuričić), works as a translator for the UN and tries to use the information gleaned from her work to protect the life of her husband Nihad (Izudin Bajrović) and her teenage sons Hamdija (Boris Ler) and Sejo (Dino Bajrović)). Unlike the UN leadership, it is able to understand what General Mladić means when he insists to Karremans: “I guarantee the safety of all the innocent”. With her family, Aida walks alongside tens of thousands of refugees in Potočari, the makeshift UN headquarters in an abandoned factory. The facility lacks food and running water, and the Bosnians have to rely on the Karremans and 370 UN troops to protect them from General Mladić.
Written, directed and produced by Jasmila Žbanić, the film is a worthwhile work of historical memory, with many vivid and clear shots of a deteriorating situation. The most successful passages are the long follow-ups that capture the full range of people huddled in a tragic “safe zone”. Aida plays a crazy role in Potočari, working as a translator, negotiator, crowd controller, field nurse, wife and mother. Žbanić offers a flashback to happier times – a “Best Hairstyle in Eastern Bosnia 1991” competition – but it’s all for the lightness.
The film presents a lot of difficult and heart-wrenching facts, the most obvious being that Karremans and Franken are unforgivably ruthless – even their mustaches look nasty as they claim to be doing “everything in their power” to avoid a gratuitous murder. There, inaction is as furious as the genocidal glint in General Mladić’s eyes. The UN soldiers, silly in their camouflaged shorts, put lines of police tape, as if it would have any effect in stopping the terror when Mladić separates men from women and children and puts them in boxes. bus in “safety”.
Although it depicts the preparation for a massacre, “Quo Vadis, Aida?” is not a particularly violent film. It works thanks to the fear of anticipation and Aida’s nightmarish attempts to find a place where her family could hide. In an epilogue that takes place a few years in the future, we see a post-genocidal Srebrenica, where Aida still doesn’t blink in the face of horrific situations. A jumble of emotions arises when a long follow-up shot examines familiar faces in the crowd during an elementary school play. Who still lives there and who remembers it?