Quo Vadis, Aida? review: A powerful feat of filmmaking
Ivan Radford | On 08, Apr 2021
Director: Jasmila Zbanic
Cast: Boris Ler, Jasna Djuricic, Izudin Bajrovic, Dino Bajrović, Boris Isaković
Where to watch Quo Vadis, Aida? online in the UK: Netflix UK / Curzon Home Cinema / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play / Sky Store / CHILI
In July 1995 more than 8,000 Muslims were killed in the town of Srebrenica during the Bosnian war. 26 years later, even after army leader Ratko Mladić was sentenced to life at The Hague in 2017, the slaughter remains a forgotten atrocity, if not a controversial one, with some still denying the genocide took place. Quo Vadis, Aida? is a stark and shocking reminder of recent history.
Jasna Ðuričić plays Aida, a teacher who works as an English translator. When the Serbian army encroaches upon the town, she is hired as an interpreter for the discussions that ensue, with the UN peacekeeping force issuing an ultimatum to the invading troops that they must stop. But the more the situation escalates, the more it becomes clear that the tensions will not be resolved and that the UN peacekeepers are unable to protect the townspeople, putting them all in grave danger.
Director Jasmila Zbanic captures the terror of the events as they unfold in painstaking detail – a slow-burn drama that grips as much as it chills. We can see etched on Ðuričić’s remarkable, expressive face the dawning realisation of two devastating truths. First, the horrifying realisation that nobody can stop the violence that is about to happen. And second, the growing dread that she may not even be able to save her family from it either.
Aida’s position on the inside of those talks and bureaucratic processes makes her determination to do something all the more anguishing; she has information and understanding that can help her keep her husband, Nihad (Izudin Bajrović), and sons, Hamdija (Boris Ler) and Sejo (Dino Bajrović), from harm, but that knowledge also puts her in an excruciating moral dilemma about helping her loved ones or trying to help the whole community.
It’s an impossible decision, and the weight of that impossibility increasingly sinks through the screen, as we see her running through corridors staffed by men trying to block her access, demanding answers that aren’t forthcoming, hiding her loved ones in a disused factory and, in one key moment, translating false promises of evacuation that will lead the crowds to their deaths.
Throughout Boris Isaković is unflinchingly loathsome as Mladić, who hands out chocolate and tells people they will be safe with a deceitful smile. But it’s Aida’s face that we’re left reflecting on, after we witness her recognise former pupils on the other side of the conflict, after we watch her identifying people from excavated remains, after we observe her teaching a class of young pupils to perform a play that sees them cover up their faces. The very essence of Zbanic’s haunting, powerful feat of filmmaking is an act of recording what took place less than three decades ago. It’s a gripping account of individual human pain amid a national travesty – and it’s impossible to look away.
Quo Vadis, Aida? is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.