Written by: Jasmila Žbanić
Starring: Jasna Đuričić, Izudin Bajrović, Boris Isaković, Johan Heldenbergh, Raymond Thiry
Work-life balance always gets preached when trying to build a healthy life, but the way this gets faced in Quo Vadis, Aida? reaches another depressing level. Serving as an unknown history lesson while also telling an unflinching and vital story, this feature works with its horror to show the pure humanity at play as well as the lack of it with a woman trying to do her best for her family.
During the Bosnian war, Aida Selmanagić (Jasna Đuričić) works as a translator for the United Nations as they attempt to control the situation amidst the rising tension in the area. With Serbian forces decimating towns and forcing the hand of the UN, Aida races with time to save her husband and sons with the threat of them being killed if left out to die by her employer.
Stating the impact of Quo Vadis, Aida? to be devastating would certainly be putting it mildly as it proves to be a frantic search for humanity amongst scared individuals and the red tape of bureaucracy. It centers on a woman both trying to do her best for her people and her family but essentially being powerless to help either. This sense of power becomes important to Aida’s journey as it continually diminishes right in front of her with the imminent stakes of her family members being at risk.
A sense of selfishness runs through this feature both from the United Nations with the false promises they provide to the Bosnian people but also Aida in her efforts to put the life of her family members ahead of others. In the case of Aida, it makes complete sense as pretty much everyone would do the same even if they swear otherwise, but above all this feature makes the United Nations look horrible in their intervention during the Bosnian war in the 1990s. This does not necessarily occur with the individuals on the ground trying to make sense of this vast mess on their hands, but more so with the ones holding the power to make the necessary moves to make a positive change. One conversation, in particular, really damns the idiotic bureaucracy at play here and the impact it has on the ground simply becomes heartbreaking.
Racing against time, Aida tries to utilize her place as a translator to provide any advantage possible to delay the inevitable of what will occur to the men in her life. From begging the UN officials to grant them exemptions to the point where she genuinely hides them, the level of frantic desperation this feature displays builds such a high level of tension. Emotions on high and everyone at the point where they’re ready to blow up at each other, calmness comes at a premium with good reason.
While telling a story of Aida’s singular experience in trying to save her family, this feature also sheds light on the horrific events that took place during the Bosnian War and how the Serbian soldiers showed absolutely no mercy to those they viewed as enemies. Promises get made and most certainly do not get kept with all of the major decisions impacting the lives of thousands occurring in small rooms. The worst part of it all comes from Aida needing to translate it all where the devastating news gets delivered through her lips. She essentially becomes the first person to know of this devastation, internalizes it, and then translates the message to the United Nations officials. Additionally, she becomes the mouthpiece for cowardice as she needs to translate the messages of the UN officials to the Bosnian refugees pleading for assistance but receiving none. The story of the massacre this film circles around certainly does not have the level of notoriety as it should. Absolutely horrific, but perhaps now knowing about it made for a more destructive viewing experience with some semblance of hope for a happy ending. As history would tell you, this was never going to be the case.
Starring in this feature is Jasna Đuričić who delivers a devastating performance in capturing all of the horrid moments Aida must endure in the efforts to save her family. Đuričić needs to display an uncontrollable rage, unquantifiable fear, and searing agony as this character as she goes through the many different stages of hoping for a miracle and then realizing the inevitable. The camera follows her through each room and the harmful conversations she must have with her superiors. Along with the direction of Jasmila Žbanić, these two women collaborate in such an impactful manner to encapsulate the roller coaster of emotions Aida goes through while also keeping the larger perspective of what this situation means for everyone else.
Nothing but pain, Quo Vadis, Aida? sparingly provides moments of joy like when Aida initially reunites with her family, but everything else represents continual cries for help. This feature gets put together with so much skill and precision to get to the heart of what these characters feel as they know what awaits them without proper assistance. Incredibly sad, yes, but ultimately a vital story shedding light on horrific events that should be remembered.