Quo Vadis, Aida?
It’s July 1995 and the end of the Bosnian War is in sight. Aida (Jasna Đuričić) is working as a translator between the UN and Serbian forces that are currently occupying the small town of Srebrenica, an area designated as a safe zone by the intergovernmental organisation. With the protagonist sitting between representatives from each side as they engage in volatile negotiations, this opening scene effectively foreshadows the events that are to come in Bosnian writer-director Jasmila Žbanić’s latest project. Finding herself in the middle of an intensifying ordeal, the correspondent does everything in her power to get her husband and sons to safety as the sense of unease grows when she begins to suspect that malice is in the air.
A sobering and highly impactful portrayal of the horrific Srebrenica Massacre in which over 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered, Žbanić’s film is yet another stark reminder of humanity’s unrelenting cruelty. Framed almost entirely from Aida’s perspective, the script places viewers in the centre of the situation as it ever so slowly escalates. Combined with Đuričić’s raw performance, spectators are given an intimate connection to a tragedy that affected thousands.
Though the pacing is purposefully slow to start, the filmmaker nevertheless generates an underlying tension by setting events in the claustrophobically overcrowded base in which the civilians are held. An omnipresent dread hangs in the air, and there’s a collective understanding that it will only take the smallest incident to ignite the powder keg. When the domineering General Mladic (Boris Isakovic, who relishes every second of his performance) is introduced into the fray, that spark is lit. Chaos erupts; the camerawork becomes more erratic to represent Aida’s turmoil, while terror and uncertainty overrun the base as the Serbian forces take control.
Unfortunately, though, the conclusion isn’t strong enough to follow on from the brilliance of what came before. While the rest of the film avoided leaning into clichés, instead choosing to present the situation objectively to tell its historic account, the finale is one huge cliché that subsequently fails to add anything substantial. Aside from an underwhelming culmination, Quo Vadis, Aida? is a triumph.
Quo Vadis, Aida? is released digitally on demand on 22nd January 2021.
Watch the trailer for Quo Vadis, Aida? here: