January 20, 2021
Through the eyes of a translator moving between the different ethnic factions, director Jasmila Žbanić musters real tragic power and clear-eyed compassion revisiting the massacre 25 years on
Quo Vadis, Aida? review – shattering return to Srebrenica
There’s a real tragic power in this almost unbearably brutal and shocking movie from writer-director Jasmila Žbanić about the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 during the Bosnian war, in which more than 8,000 unarmed Bosnian Muslims sheltering in a so-called UN “safe area” were slaughtered: the biggest civilian atrocity in Europe since the second world war. Dutch UN peacekeeping soldiers in powder-blue helmets had been unable to stop Bosnian Serb forces swaggering into their compound – undisciplined, jacked up with the brutal thrill of conquest, paranoid about combatants supposedly hiding among the civilian refugees and simply seething with ethnic hate.
Jasna Đuričić plays Aida, a schoolteacher-turned-translator who is employed by the UN to interpret in discussions between Bosnian Muslim leaders and UN officials, as Srebrenica falls to the Serb forces. Her husband Nihad (Izudin Bajrović) is a headteacher, and they sense that their military-age sons Hamdija (Boris Ler) and Sejo (Dino Bajrović) are now in great danger of reprisals from the victorious Serb army. As they huddle in the disused battery factory under the UN’s supposed protection with thousands of other terrified souls, and thousands more outside, with chaos, squalor and panic growing, Aida scurries around frantically trying to get information. She realises that the pathetic UN commander Karremans (Johan Heldenbergh) can do nothing in the face of the murderous bullies led by the notorious war criminal Ratko Mladić, played with horribly plausible conceit and disdain by Boris Isaković, smoothly and ambiguously announcing his determination not to hurt “innocent” people and handing out Toblerone bars to the trembling children.
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