“Quo Vadis, Aida?” details the 1995 Srebrenica massacre during the Bosnian war, when more than 8,000 Muslims were killed by the Bosnian Serb Army of Republika Srpska and its general, Ratko Mladić. It is a massacre hardly remembered in America and most of Western Europe.
Written and directed by Jasmila Žbanić, who was a teenager in Sarajevo during its siege by Serb forces in the 1990s, the film has earned enormous acclaim and an Academy Award nomination. By most estimations, the film runs second to the Danish entry for the Oscars, “Another Round.” Directed by Thomas Vinterberg, the Danish film is about four men going through a midlife crisis, and they decide to drink alcohol on a daily basis to see how it affects their lives.
“Quo Vadis, Aida?” is the kind of film that has been historically neglected by the awards — it is directed by a woman, about a woman and focuses on Muslim war victims. “Another Round” is directed by a famous male director, about men and focuses on middle-class life. This is the kind of decision that will show whether or not the Oscars has truly become more dedicated to honoring the underrepresented.
“Quo Vadis, Aida?” centers around the fictional United Nations translator, Aida, who tries to keep her family safe as the Dutch U.N. crumbles under Serbian forces. As a translator, Aida has access to important inside information. Her family is among the thousands of citizens who are trying to find shelter in the U.N. camp. Through careful maneuvering, Aida is able to get her family safe inside the U.N., but things do not end there. Knowing that her husband and sons face certain death at the hands of Serbian forces if they have their way, Aida desperately does whatever she can to protect them.
Jasna Đuričić gives an unforgettable performance as Aida. Along with the compelling story, I was thoroughly enraptured from beginning to end by how she played her role. Her empathy, love for her family, desperation and fear was clearly conveyed, and all of her emotions were convincing.
Aida’s story is not one that is usually seen in films about war. Viewers are used to focusing on the soldiers, commanders and leaders involved, not the everyday citizens and the victims. Đuričić’s performance is completely authentic as a woman who is irrevocably affected by these circumstances. She portrays thousands of nameless women and citizens whose lives have been damaged by war, but whose stories have hardly ever been told.
The Heartwrenching Story of “Quo Vadis, Aida?”
Since Aida is an interpreter, she is expected to translate crucial information, which means she is able to understand what is happening. Thus, much of the film is filled with movement — from her running, translating, asking questions, learning new information and constantly being on the lookout for her family’s safety. Because she has insider information, there is hope that she will be able to save her family. This hope propels this part of the film and keeps viewers engrossed. There is a chance this story may have a happy ending, at least for Aida. However, even though Aida has insider information, she has absolutely no control over what is happening.
She knows what is happening, but is powerless to stop it. In the end, she has no other choice but to watch as her family is taken away from her, knowing she did everything in her power to try and save them, but that it wasn’t enough.
The first part of the film chronicles Aida’s experience as a translator and her maneuvers to keep her family safe while things quickly go from bad to worse. This feels like an action film. It is fast-paced, engrossing and there is a great deal to lose.
You are also pulled into the shock of the situation that Aida and her family are facing. This is brilliantly captured by a sequence at the beginning of the film when — the situation not yet dire but snowballing fast — Aida remembers a community fashion show she participated in before the war. In the memory, she beams as she walks down a small runway. A band plays on a nearby stage, and friends and family sit in the audience, eating, drinking and laughing. Other women walk in line with her, glamorous and smiling. Aida kisses her husband in the audience and smiles wider; she is happy and having fun. The next instant, she is awoken from a nap; she’s back in the U.N., and a terrified man is screaming to the crowd that they are going to be gassed. While this turns out to be false, it conveys their doomed, incomprehensible situation in contrast with the peaceful, everyday life that Aida previously led.
“Quo Vadis, Aida?” Is a Reminder of Loss and Hope
The second part of the film stands in stark contrast to the first. The massacre has taken place. Aida has lost her family. She is now dealing with the consequences of what occurred. She is processing and enduring her loss. It seems she is able to go on, but the film makes sure that viewers are aware of the hardship of her debilitating and overwhelming burden — a burden which the thousands of people who did lose loved ones in the massacre inevitably had to face.
At the end of the film, Aida loses her family. Afterward, the only consolation the film gives the audience is the same that Aida had to hold on to after enduring such a loss: hope in the next generation. Aida goes back to teaching school, which was her job before she became a translator. However, even though the film ends by focusing on a vision of hope — the children’s faces as they put on a performance for their parents at school — it also serves as a reminder of the loss of other lives that all began the same way.
Watching the ending scene, I felt the terrible risk of new life and the colossal worth of every life, which can be destroyed so quickly and senselessly. Watching the smiling children and their proud parents, I was reminded once again of Aida’s incalculable loss.
“This film is about a woman caught in a male game of war. It is about courage, love and resilience,” said director Žbanić. “And also about what happens if we fail to react on time to warning signs. I survived the war in Bosnia. One day you have everything and the other day most of the things you know no longer exist. Just because we deem certain things unimaginable, does not mean they can not happen.”
“Quo Vadis, Aida?” is a movie to remember. In my opinion, the choice for this year’s best international feature is an easy one.