(Directed by Jasmila Zbanic) (2020)
If you were told that a mortal enemy was approaching your town, in force, what would you do? Would you up stakes (family, dog, cat, photos, bread and water)? Or would you wait and hope for relief from a UN Peace Keeping brigade, lacking both air support and Sun Tzu’s well-known power to keep peace (i.e. by preparedness for war)?
After Tito, who had ruled Yugoslavia for some 34 years under Soviet patronage (although he was not exactly a puppet) died in 1980, it was inevitable that the country would list, containing as it did a salad of ethnic, religious and political diversity, dressed with historic enmities. With the collapse of the Soviet Union a decade later, the prospect of general global war vanished (for a time), to be replaced by the ‘agony of the little nations.’ Yugoslavia broke into pieces. These pieces had surprisingly sharp edges.
Quo Vadis, Aida? tells the story of one of those pieces, the Srebrenica massacre, where Ratko Mladic‘s Bosnian Serb forces killed some 8 thousand Bosnian Muslim boys and men, on 11 July 1995; the worst mass murder in Europe since WWII. After taking the town (what’s left of it) and having the Mayor and his administration ‘recalled’ in the most brusque way imaginable, the army descends on an abandoned factory/warehouse where some 4,000 villagers huddle under the ‘protection’ of Dutch peace-keepers, many thousands outside the gates, in the scorching heat, clamouring to get in. (Beautifully shot, the plight and manifest despair of the civilians is eerily reminiscent of scenes at Hamid Karzai International Airport last year).
Aida, a Bosnian translator, has to afford communications between the city councillors, her fellow villagers and the UN forces, all the while striving to save her husband and two sons from a fate she fears will be deadly. It makes for a very sad, indeed, harrowing film, told in the most clear and pure terms, with none of the hand-wringing or false moralizing we tend to get nowadays. The coda to the film, the same village in winter now, years hence, is as satisfying as it is almost surreal and vaguely ominous: evil casts a long shadow and may replicate. The direction here and throughout is as sure and tastefully stark as possible.
The entire cast is superb. Without detracting from anybody, we must single out Johan Heldenbergh as the frustrated and feckless colonel of the peacekeepers; Raymond Thiry as his exasperated 2IC (both abandoned by the UN and left to negotiate with – i.e., be shoved aside by – Mladic); Izudin Bajrović as Aida’s husband; the magnificent, malignant, cynical and truly formidable Mladic (Boris Isaković) and his henchman (Emir Hadžihafizbegović). Best for last – Jasna Đuričić, as Aida, gives an astounding performance.