Quo Vadis, Aida? (2020)

A very accessible piece of history-based filmmaking through the eyes of a UN translator, in this case about the events at Srebrenica during the ‘90s Bosnian War, this is a tense and powerful work about the unshakeable bonds of family as a harrowing humanitarian crisis unfolds with a devastating sense of inevitability.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Review #2,167

Dir. Jasmila Zbanic
2020 | Bosnia & Herzegovina | Drama/History/War | 101 mins | 1.85:1 | Serbo-Croatian, Bosnian & English
NC16 (passed clean) for coarse language and some drug references

Cast: Jasna Djuricic, Boris Isakovic, Johan Heldenbergh
Plot: Aida is a translator for the UN in the small town of Srebrenica. When the Serbian army takes over the town, her family is among the thousands of citizens looking for shelter in the UN camp.
Awards: Nom. for Best International Feature (Oscars); Nom. for Golden Lion (Venice); Won Audience Award (Rotterdam)
International Sales: Indie Sales

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Politics, Humanity, Family, Survival
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Screener
Spoilers: No

Jasmila Zbanic, one of Eastern European cinema’s strongest female voices, and of Berlinale Golden Bear-winning fame with her first feature, Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams (2006), returns with Quo Vadis, Aida? (meaning ‘Where are you going, Aida?’), which competed at the Venice Film Festival for the Golden Lion, but more crucially nabbed an Oscar nomination for Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Best International Feature category. 

It’s a very accessible work and I hope more people would see it, especially folks who might appreciate an introductory window to the Bosnian War of the 1990s, an international armed conflict that I can’t claim to know much about. 

A harrowing humanitarian crisis unfolds in Quo Vadis, Aida? as Serbian forces seize the town of Srebrenica, where a predominantly Muslim Bosniak community resides. 

Tens of thousands of them escape, but they have nowhere to run except towards a nearby United Nations outpost, hoping to seek refuge. 

“General Mladic is looking for a civilian representative from among you in order to negotiate with him. Are there any volunteers?”

Through the eyes of Aida, a local translator working for the UN, we witness with a devastating sense of inevitability as the situation turns unimaginably dire. 

Zbanic’s direction is extraordinary as she gives us narrative clarity amidst the chaos of conflict and fear.  With Quo Vadis, Aida?, she has made a film of incredible suspense and power about a very dark chapter in her country’s national history. 

However, what is most revelatory about Zbanic’s work is her portrayal of the unshakeable bonds of family, as Aida has to face insurmountable pressure to protect her loved ones while engaging with her crucial work as a translator. 

There have been a few films about the Bosnian War over the years such as Welcome to Sarajevo (1997) and the Oscar-winning No Man’s Land (2001); Quo Vadis, Aida? is another worthy addition that comes highly recommended.

Grade: A




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