Bosnian film “Quo Vadis, Aida?”, which was recently nominated for Best International Film Oscar, is an unforgettable war drama which takes us into one of the most tragic incidents in the Bosnian War. As told to us at the beginning of the movie, the story itself is partially fictional, but what inevitably happens during its finale did occur in real life as some of you may remember, and that is the main reason why the urgent personal drama at the center of the movie feels all the more harrowing to us.
Mainly set in and around Srebrenica, a Bosnian city located near the border between Bosnia and Serbia, the movie initially shows us how dangerous and desperate the situation has been in July 1995 for many Bosniak Muslim civilians in Srebrenica including Aida Selmanagić (Jasna Đuričić), a middle-aged female schoolteacher who has recently worked as a translator at a nearby UN Peacekeeping Army camp. As the soldiers of the Serbian Army led by General Ratko Mladić (Boris Isaković) are about to take over the city even though the city is declared as a safe zone by the UN, Aida and the mayor of the city are quite concerned to say the least, so they go to the camp and then meet its commander for getting any assurance on their safety, but the commander, Colonel Thom Karremans (Johan Heldenbergh), only emptily repeats that there will be airstrikes on the Serbian Army if it ever attempts to invade the city.
Needless to say, both Aida and the mayor have no faith on that at all, and it later turns out that even the commander has been pretty skeptical about that as having been quite frustrated with the incompetence and inaction of his superiors in the UN. Although he and his UN Peacekeeping soldiers are supposed to protect the city and its endangered civilians, they have not been authorized yet to do anything besides holding their position as usual, and they even have not received enough supplies for maintaining their camp during last several months.
Well aware that the UN Peacekeeping Army will not do much for protecting the city, General Mladić and his Serbian soldiers eventually begin to invade Srebrenica, and that consequently leads to lots of panic and chaos in the city. Many of Bosniak Muslim civilians hurriedly try to leave the city, and they all go to the UN Peacekeeping Army camp for safety and protection, but not all of them are allowed to enter the camp as the maintenance and protection of the camp come first for Colonel Karremans and his soldiers. As a result, thousands of civilians have no choice but to stay outside the camp, and they are all more scared and terrified as the Serbian soldiers are ready to go for them after taking over the city.
Because her dear husband and their two sons happen to be stuck outside the camp just like many others, Aida desperately tries to bring them into the camp by any means necessary, but she only comes to discern more of how the situation has become a lot direr for not only the refugees outside the camp but also the ones inside the camp. The ones inside the camp are relatively safer in comparison, but then they come to see that the UN Peacekeeping Army is not so reliable when Colonel Karremans lets a bunch of Serbian soldiers into the camp, and that certainly drives them into more terror and desperation.
When General Mladić, who comes to look more insidious and deplorable in his superficially jovial attitude, later proposes an evacuation plan for the refugees, Colonel Karremans, who cares a bit about what he is supposed to do, certainly knows too well what his opponent and those Serbian soldiers will eventually do, but, again, there is really nothing he and his men can do about that except stepping back from the situation. Unlike many other characters in the film including Aida, both Colonel Karremans and General Mladić are actually real-life figures, and I must confess that I was relieved to learn later that the latter was captured in 2011 and then incarcerated for his war crimes in 2017.
In the meantime, Aids tries harder for finding any possible way out for her family, but she is reminded again and again of how helpless she really is. As a UN employee, she has been certainly protected right from the beginning, but her family continues to be stuck in an increasingly gloomy status along with many other refugees, and it only becomes more apparent to her that there is not much hope for all of them at all, regardless of how much she keeps trying. As the heart and soul of the film, Jasna Đuričić’s earnest performance is simply heartbreaking at times, and several other main cast members including Izudin Bajrović, Boris Isaković, and Johan Heldenbergh are also effective in their respective supporting roles.
Even during the inevitable finale, the movie sticks to its phlegmatic attitude, but it never overlooks the horror of what occurred in Srebrenica during that time, and it has several restrained but undeniably chilling moments which are more than enough for conveying to us the horrific aspects of that incident. The following epilogue feels a bit too long in my humble opinion, but the screenplay by director/writer/co-producer Jasmila Žbanić still sticks to its calm position as before, and then there comes a hauntingly poignant moment which will linger on your mind for a while.
Overall, “Quo Vadis, Aida?” works as a sincere and powerful remembrance to its important historical subject, and you will find yourself shaken up a lot by a number of emotionally intense moments in the film. In my consequential opinion, this is one of the best films I saw during this year, and I wholeheartedly urge you to get a chance to watch it as soon as possible.