Review: Quo Vadis, Aida?

Jasna Djuricic in Quo vadis, Aida?

Quo Vadis, Aida? is based on a true story about the massacre of thousands of men and boys in 1995 in the town of Srebrenica in what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina. We experience events viscerally with the main character, Aida, as she struggles to protect her family. The film is streaming on Hulu, Prime, and several other streamers.

Quo Vadis, Aida? was the official submission of Bosnia and Herzegovina for the Best International Feature Film category of the 93rd Academy Awards in 2021. It’s compelling and heartbreaking. We stay with Aida Selmanagic (Jasna Djuricic) for most of the film.

Aida was a former teacher. She worked for the UN as a translator. As such she had free run of the UN base and access to the Dutch UN officers and doctors running the base.

When General Ratko Mladic (Boris Isakovic) of the Bosnian Serb army took over the town, thousands of people went to the UN base, where they were told they would be safe. The town had been declared a safe area under UN protection. But when help was needed, the UN and the world looked away.

Only a few got inside the compound. Most were outside in the July sun. There was no food, no water, no toilet facilities. The Dutch officers led by Colonel Karremans (Johan Heldenbergh) and Major Franken (Raymond Thiry) reached out repeatedly to the UN and their Dutch commanders but no help came. The UN’s promised air strikes against General Mladic’s positions didn’t happen.

Aida had a husband (Izudin Bajrovic) and two sons: Hamdija (Boris Ler) and Sejo (Dino Bajrovic). She struggled relentlessly, tirelessly, frantically, to get them inside the base where they could hide and be safe. We stay with her as she used every persuasion, every subterfuge, every resource to protect her family. At the same time she was required to translate the reassurances and platitudes of the ineffective Dutch UN officers when she could see that things were getting worse.

General Mladic promised safety. Buses arrived to take people to another town. The men were separated from the women. The women were driven away, the men were massacred (thankfully, out of the camera’s eye). Over 8,000 men and boys were murdered and buried in mass graves.

Jasna Djuricic in Quo vadis, Aida?

The film fast forwards a few years. Aida and other survivors are back living in Srebrenica. They are having children and Aida is teaching them. But life is not normal, especially as the mass graves are found and bodies are returned to family members.

Writer and director Jasmila Zbanic doesn’t beat you over the head with morality messages. She simply lets you be there, live the trauma with Aida, and see the scars and pain that remain when the fighting finally stops. A film this powerfully written and directed doesn’t tell you how bad it was and is, it simply shows you. The gut wrenching performance by Jasna Djuricic brings the emotional tone perfectly.

Poster for Quo Vadis, Aida?

Here’s the preview.

I know it’s a horrific topic, but I recommend this brilliant film. If you watch it, please share your reactions in the comments.

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