Yasmila Žbanić, a former worker for the Bread and Puppet theater and a clown performer in a Lee De Long workshop, has directed a riveting, sorrowful and anxious film, “Quo Vadis, Aida?”
The film is blunt, shocking and uncompromising. Though it makes for difficult viewing, it should be seen. It takes place right before the Srebrenica Massacre in 1995, in which 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were killed by Serbian forces.
Aida (Jasna Đuričić) is a former teacher. As a UN translator, she works tirelessly in the hope of lessening the conflict. One day thousands of people converge upon a UN base seeking safety. Aida learns that her husband Nihad (Izudin Bajrović) and her two sons, Sejo (Dino Bajrović) and Hamdija (Boris Ler) have escaped their house and are awaiting entry. They are refused. Commander Karremans (Johan Heldenbergh) has issued an ultimatum telling the Serbians to call off any further bombings.
Aida has reason to worry: acts of diplomacy have been promised before to no avail. She frantically moves to secure spaces of safety for her family, becoming increasingly desperate.
Men are torn apart from their wives, girlfriends and daughters. Girls are wrenched from their mothers by stone-faced Serbian soldiers.
Concrete buildings are blown apart. The perspective is seen at a distance, as if part of a film set or puppet landscape.
Once the civilians are separated in terror, Ratko Mladić (Boris Isaković) assures them they will be well-handled with care and compassion. Aida implores Major Franken (Raymond Thiry) to put her husband and two sons on a safe list but Franken says he cannot do so without jeopardizing others. Aida tries to copy a UN badge electronically, but the machine is broken.
This is the unvarnished horror of gunfire and blood that culminates in genocide.
Aida is left to burrow wherever she can and she returns to the classroom to teach. When we next see Aida’s eyes watching her smiling energetic students, they seem frozen, locked in a sorrowful dance, held in a hellish place of regret.
“Quo Vadis, Aida?” an Oscar Nominated film last year is a fine empathetic study on the Bosnian war.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org