Right at the beginning, the film reminds its viewers of the most monstrous thing with a short fade-in: the place and time of the atrocities that it will tell about in the next 103 minutes. “Europe, Bosnia – July 1995” is written under the pictures of approaching tanks. “Europe” is important.
“Quo vadis, Aida?” tells of the unimaginable atrocities that took place back then – only 26 years ago – in the middle of Europe and under the eyes of the international community in Srebrenica. Bosnian-Serb troops of the Army of the Serbian Republic and paramilitaries under the leadership of Ratko Mladić murdered more than 8,000 mostly male civilians in the small Bosnian town, who they buried in mass graves.
The highly political, visually powerful film by director and screenwriter Jasmila Žbanić, which was nominated for an Oscar for “Best International Film” this year, immediately pulls you into the ominous mood of these July days: Under the oppressive summer heat, one means the tension and fear of death To be able to reach with your hands on the site of an old battery factory.
The factory is the base of a UN unit and is actually in the international protection zone. But the thousands of Bosniak residents of Srebrenica, who fled here after taking the place, do not find protection here. The blue helmets are hopelessly overwhelmed and soon close the protective castle due to overcrowding. And so thousands wait in front of the barbed wire.
Jasmila Žbanić walks right into the darkest moment of the war
The plot follows Aida. The former teacher works as a translator for the UN troops. She herself is safe. But not her husband Nihad and their two sons Hamdija and Sejo, which she is trying to change with increasingly panicked will to organize and through all available relationships. Because Aida has not only heard the rumors of rapes and murders by Mladić’s soldiers. She has translated enough negotiations to know how life-threatening the situation is and how little one can rely on the appeasement of the UN.
And so the camera accompanies Aida in her hunt through the factory halls, corridors and provisionally set up UN offices. Through a never-ending labyrinth of metal and concrete, sweat and fear. Back and forth between the civilians crouching on the ground and the nervously smoking UN officers, who are more and more similar in their powerlessness. She desperately looks for a way out to get her husband and sons to safety.
The Serbian actress Jasna Đuričić plays Aida with a haunting mixture of vulnerability and drive. She pushes, negotiates and tricks, she keeps running up against new obstacles, while time is running out and the scope for action is getting narrower and narrower. “Quo vadis, Aida?” tells about it like a real thriller. The only difference is that there can be no twists and turns or last-minute rescue. The end of the film is historically written down in all its cruelty from the beginning. Aida’s fight is a fight against the inevitable.
For Jasmila Žbanić, the Bosnian war and its shadows have long been an issue. The director is from Sarajevo and was 17 when the war broke out. In her debut film “Esma’s Secret / Grbavica”, which won the Golden Bear in 2006, she dealt with the war-torn post-war generation torn between a spirit of optimism and old injuries. With her new film, a European co-production by eight countries, she is now going back, right into the darkest moment of the war.
And it’s moving the way she talks about the genocide. In the portrayal of the events, she is documentarily precise, but never sober, and she uses a narrative trick: the extent of the massacre becomes more tangible through the focus on the individual story. Aida – so it is in the credits – is the representative for all the women of Srebrenica “and their 8,372 killed sons, fathers, men, brothers, cousins, neighbors …”. Srebrenica is the multiplication of the individual horror.
Above all, however, it is impressive that Žbanić has made a film about violence that does not openly show the violence. The horror lies in the scary moments. At one point, Aida faces an armed Serb soldier who was her student in the past, when everyone was still living peacefully together. And when at the end men are led into an old cinema, all you see is gun barrels pushing through openings in the wall before the camera withdraws – out into the street, where two empty trucks stand ghostly in the evening breeze. A bloodlust without pictures. He will be shocked all the more.
Quo vadis, Aida? – Bosnia and Herzegovina / A / RO ua 2020. Direction and script: Jasmila Žbanić. Camera: Christine A. Maier. Editor: Jarosław Kamiński. With: Jasna Đuričić, Izudin Bajrović, Boris Isaković. Color film, 103 min.