• Post category:Movies
  • Post last modified:December 18, 2021

Quo Vadis, Aida: Fall of Srebrenica

When war came to her Bosnia, Jasmila Zbanic was 17 years old. Like so many others, she could hardly believe that the conflict would amount to much; after all, like so many other people in Yugoslavia, her family was mixed. What were they going to do, start fighting each other? Zbanic soon learned that everything was about to change. As a filmmaker years later, she made a movie called Grbavica (2006), depicting women who were systematically raped by Serbian soldiers during the war; it won the Golden Bear in Berlin. In Quo Vadis, Aida?, Zbanic returned to the war and took on its most famous atrocity: the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

A triumphant walk through the city
In July, 1995, the Bosnian town of Srebrenica is finally taken by troops under the leadership of General Ratko Mladic (Boris Isakovic) who takes a triumphant walk through the city. Mladic is head of the armed forces serving the secessionist Republica Srpska, claiming to represent the interests of Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and he is initially trying to make both the United Nations and the people of Srebrenica accept him as a man of peace. On the other side we have U.N. troops, led by the Dutch colonel Thom Karremans (Johan Heldenbergh), who failed to keep Mladic’s forces away from what was until recently designated a ”safe area”.

In the middle between these military forces we have Aida Selmanagic (Jasna Duricic), a translator working for the U.N. who knows better than the Dutch what the people of Srebrenica are up against. She knows that she must do everything in her power to keep her husband and two sons away from Mladic’s troops.

Depicted as helpless and weak
That small detail, Srebrenica being known as a ”safe area” for many months until suddenly it became the site of a genocidal massacre, deeply affected Zbanic and you can see the consequences in her script. The U.N. forces are consistently depicted as helpless and weak, unable to organize any kind of resistance against Mladic and his forces other than evacuating people; even at that stage, they’re shown as failures, posing bureaucratic obstacles to what should be a morally straightforward mission, rescuing as many as possible from a murderous army. We can sense the frustration in Heldenbergh’s performance as Karremans, a man who latterly blamed politicians in his home country for tying his hands behind his back.

Mladic is shown as the true opposite; in Isakovic’s interpretation, the general is a swaggering leader who regards the U.N. as a minor irritation. Duricic’s performance cleverly lands somewhere in the middle, between these men. Aida is scared of what Mladic’s troops might do and spends a lot of time begging and pleading with the U.N. representatives, but at the same time she’s also clearly the strongest member of her family, the one who has to tell her husband and sons what to do to survive. Much of the film works like a thriller, building tension as we can sense the ever approaching threat.

At the same time, Zbanic knowingly conveys the tragedy of the situation, the fact that these are former neighbors and friends turning on each other. As a former teacher, Aida recognizes students among Mladic’s troops, young men who used to play with her sons and now might kill them because of who they are.

An angst-ridden, but powerful and deeply moving film. Some of the most striking scenes come near the end, many years after the massacre and the end of the war, when we see survivors and war criminals now living in what I suppose you could call peace together in the modern Bosnia and Herzegovina, trying to move on in spite of what they lost.

Quo Vadis, Aida? 2020-Bosnia-Austria-Romania-The Netherlands-Germany-Poland-France-Norway-Turkey. 101 min. Color. Produced by Damir Ibrahimovich, Jasmila Zbanic. Written and directed by Jasmila Zbanic. Cast: Jasna Duricic (Aida Selmanagic), Izudin Bajrovic (Nihad Selmanagic), Boris Isakovic (Ratko Mladic), Johan Heldenbergh, Raymond Thiry, Boris Ler.

European Film Awards: Best Film, Director, Actress (Duricic).

Last word: “Living in post-war Bosnia has many different facets: people responsible for the killings still hold positions of power, and neighbours who were a part of the killing machine pretend they never did anything. It’s not like all criminals are in jail now and only good people are building the country. 1,700 bodies still haven’t been found, and after 25 years, mothers are still searching so that they can bury their sons. There is still so much denial. Half of my country, with a Bosnian-Serb majority, rejects the film, claiming it’s anti-Serbian. The actors who played Aida and general Ratko Mladić [Boris Isakovic], who are Serbian, are getting hate mail and being called traitors in the media. Obviously we haven’t returned to normal, but what is ‘normal’?” (Zbanic, Cineuropa)



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