- Colin Fraser
QUO VADIS, AIDA?
FIVE STARS An interpreter for the United Nations is caught up in the siege of Srebrenica, and has to find a way to protect her family from Serbian troops. DRAMA Bosnia & Herzegovina (Serbian, Bosnian, English language) #QUOVADISAIDA?
Starring Jasna Djuricic, Boris Isakovic, Johan Heldenbergh
It’s July 1995 and Serb troops are marching through Bosnia. The war in Europe has come to the outskirts of Srebrenica, a small town protected by the United Nations. Aida works at the Dutch run camp as an interpreter and gains inside information on Serbian plans and UN failures. When fighting breaks out in the town, thousands of civilians including Aida’s family clamour for protection. She knows better than anyone just how dangerous it is outside the camp and desperately seeks to shelter her husband and sons with her inside the fence. With the Serbian leader quite literally at the gate, will the UN honour its pledge to protect the Bosnians?
Well, no. The shocking failures of NATO and the atrocities carried out by the Serbian army during the Balkans war is the well-documented, and through the eyes of Aida we’re taken deep into her personal nightmare. How do you position and protect your family from both ideological murderous thugs and an impotent, bureaucratic Clayton’s-force without compromising the safety of others? Is that even possible?
Once the Serbian soldiers line up buses, divide men from women and ship people away from the camp, the horror mounts. We’ve seen this before. There’s only one way it can end and no one wants to see that. What makes QUO VADIS, AIDIA? watchable (which is not to suggest in any way that this is a sub-standard film, far from it) is the unbearable honesty that the filmmakers bring to the subject matter. Unbearable because the viscosity of the experience, rare in cinema, brings the fear, tension and mounting dread right to your seat. It’s truly awful.
But as hard as you try, there’s no avoiding the ordeal in part because the film’s ‘appeal’ rests on the courage and humanity brought to the story by its central character. The people of Srebrenica are a frightened backdrop and while the soldiers are never painted in a favourable light (how could they be), there’s a nod of understanding as to how formerly peaceful neighbours could find themselves on different sides of a war. Aida knows some of the boy-soldiers well; a former teacher, she once taught them at school. It’s this intimacy that gives QUO VADIS, AIDA? its shocking power.
There’s also a tremendous amount of detail found in visual story telling that gives the film tremendous depth. Take the Dutch force who are dressed in camo shorts. It’s July, it’s hot in Bosnia and the uniform is legitimate but the effect is to render them younger than they are, like school kids without authority which, effectively, is what they were. QUO VADIS, AIDA? is packed with this kind of detail which adds considerable weight to the narrative. However it's the stunning, gut-clenching performance by Jasna Djuricic as Aida on which the film soars. Her restrained, clear-eyed determination is astonishing and somehow makes everything bearable.
That said, this is not an easy film to watch, nor should it be. Once the peace-keeping force was castrated by NATO, over eight thousand people were slaughtered by Serbian forces. No one gets out of this story well, not even Aida. Right to the end, the filmmakers don’t miss an opportunity to keep our eyes wide open to the reality of this war and in doing so have crafted one of the best films of the year.