Bosnian acclaimed filmmaker Jasmila Zbanic’s dazzling “Quo Vadis, Aida?” is about a true event of the Srebrenica genocide in July 1995, in which Serbian troops massacred nearly 8,400 Bosnian men, however, the film speaks directly to the current climate, revealing the failure of foreign policies around the world and how ordinary people are left behind by these tragedies.

Before we move on to the film, it’s better we all learn what actually happened. In short, the film opens in an eastern town of Srebrenica, declared by Dutch U.N. peacekeepers as a safe zone, during the war between the Serbians and Bosnians that has been started for three years. When the Serbian troops overtook the town, thousands of local Bosnians tried to enter the nearby U.N. base camp, but only a few hundred got in before the gates closed. Later, those civilians were transferred to Serbian soldiers, and most of the men and boys were killed then buried in mass graves.

The tragedy is rarely remembered outside the country, but we still need to ask: How did this even happen in Europe 50 years after WWII, especially under the U.N.’s supervision? “Quo Vadis, Aida?” will show you how as we follow the protagonist shares the same name with the film title played by the wonderful Jasna Djuricic, who used to be a school teacher and now works for the U.N. as a translator. Zbanic cleverly uses Aida as our guide to this horrific environment, reflecting her anxiety and fear through her eyes and reactions. 

The film title means “Where are you going, Aida?” in English. Being a translator, we see Aida bounces between officers and civilians, passing orders and messages to different parties. Meanwhile, she also tries to find her husband and two sons who didn’t enter the base camp and are now staying outside the gates, so Aida convinces a high-ranking officer to let them in by recommending her husband to join in the negotiation committee represent civilians. Though she successfully gets her family to enter the U.N. base camp, the film title still asks where she is going as she begins to sense things might get worse very soon, and staying in the camp won’t release the tension. She can save herself and her family by now, but can she save the thousands of refugees outside the camp?

As the panic is rising around her world, Aida can foresee the danger approaching and tries very hard to prevent it, yet the corrupted bureaucracy will never give her a rest. Zbanic knows exactly what her film has to be, and she shows us how policies can cause both national and individual tragedies, and that the war crime indicates the failure of bureaucracy and humanity. There are countless people all over the world facing a similar situation but realizing there’s nothing they can do to stop the inevitable massacre. Aida is just one of these helpless individual.

After watching the screener of the film provided by Super LTD, I also watched the interview of Zbanic, in which she mentioned the massacre is not only rarely remembered by the world but also has been denied even after the mass graves were discovered and the engineers behind the tragedy were arrested. Hence, in “Quo Vadis, Aida?” she not only re-creates the event but also dares to show how easily people move on from the tragedy and go back to daily life, which is much more traumatizing than horrifying – the person sitting next to you today could be the same person who used to point the gun at your face, or the stranger smiles at you could be the person who sent your loved ones to death.

Back to school and teach after the war, Aida is not running around anymore, but she no longer can have her rest as the ghosts from the past keep haunting her. As time passes, memories will fade, and most of the young generation won’t understand the historical weight of the bodies buried in the ground they call home. Aida, and other survivors, know and can’t let go of them, despite they aren’t able to express how much they had lost. 

GRADE: A

Contact me at jiajinpin@gmail.com.  Follow social at @jjpin

  • Distributor: Super LTD
  • Director: Jasmila Zbanic
  • Writer: Jasmila Zbanic
  • Producer: Damir Ibrahimovich and Jasmila Zbanic
  • Cast: Jasna Djuricic, Izudin Bajrovic, Boris Ler, Dino Bajrovic, Johan Heldenbergh, Raymond Thiry, and Boris Isakovic
  • “Quo Vadis, Aida?” premiered at Venice Film Festival 2020.

Read the review in Chinese

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