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VOD Review: Quo Vadis, Aida?

April 7, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

Set in July of 1995 at the height of the conflict between Bosnia and Serbia, the Oscar-nominated Quo Vadis, Aida? is a gripping and startling film that takes these historical events from nearly three decades ago and puts them into sharp, chilling focus.

This conflict is explored through the eyes of Aida Selmanagic (Jasna Djuricic), a translator working for the United Nations who is on the frontline of the negotiations between the two forces. The majority of the film unfolds at a UN base camp that is meant to be a safe zone for civilians in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, which is being taken over by the Serbian Chetnik army.

But as the UN fails to back up their promise to protect the town with military action including airstrikes, the peacekeepers at the overcrowded base are left helplessly following orders from the invading forces, led by the ruthless General Ratko Mladic (Boris Isakovic). Aida becomes determined to protect her husband Nihad (Izudin Bajrović) and two young adult sons Hamdija (Boris Ler) and Sejo (Dino Bajrović), as her commanders don’t want to give priority to family members.

The film is written and directed by Bosnian filmmaker Jasmila Žbanić, who brilliantly dramatizes the events leading up to the Srebrenica massacre. By keeping the focus on her title character, Žbanić lets the film unfold with a startling immediacy, throwing us into this pressure cooker situation and allowing any sense of hope to slowly evaporate, scene by heart-wrenching scene. The result is an extremely impactful look at how a genocide is essentially allowed to happen through mixed messages, inaction from the UN, and blind trust in authority figures, showing how powerless one person is to stop it.

If this sounds heavy and emotionally draining, that’s because it is. At times, Quo Vadis, Aida? plays out in a way that feels like a collection of trauma memories, and this is precisely Žbanić’s point. These things really happened, there are still survivors experiencing trauma from the events in Srebrenica, and Žbanić forces us to come to terms with it in such a profoundly personal way. The film builds up an incredible amount of tension as it goes along, before becoming almost unspeakably heartbreaking in its last act in a way that feels like having the rug pulled out from under us.

At the heart of the film is Djuricic, who delivers a gripping performance as a mother trying desperately to protect her family, her dedication to the role never wavering as her portrayal of Aida’s determination and despair becomes more and more shattering as it goes along. This is an incredibly powerful film, and I doubt I will be able to shake it any time soon.

Quo Vadis, Aida? is Oscar-nominated for Best International Feature, and is now available on a variety of Digital and VOD platforms. It’s being distributed in Canada by Elevation Pictures.

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