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  • Writer's pictureeclectic Stefan

Quo Vadis, Aida?:”When normal life descends into hell“

Quo Vadis, Aida? is a movie that depicts normal life descending into hell. Aida, a primary school teacher who works as a translator for United Nations (UN) troops stationed in Bosnia during the war in Bosnian and Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995, is torn between the imperative to save her husband and sons from the advancing Bosnian soldiers lead by General Mladić and negotiating a safe haven for the fleeing Bosniak Muslims through her work as a translator. She becomes aware of the dire situation facing the fleeing Bosniaks and the clear indication that bloodshed on a mass scale will be the outcome. Her cause is helpless. This is reflected in the film's title, Quo Vadis, Aida? (translates as Where Are You Going/What Are You Doing, Aida?).

Aida becomes an eyewitness to genocide.

Joka at the barrier & Aida addressing the crowds

The scene is Srebrenica. In July 1995, Srebrenica was meant to be a safe haven under the protection of the United Nations armed forces. Those forces were outnumbered by the Bosnian soldiers and their unrelenting, forceful edicts to the civilians to identify any men who fought against Bosnia. The civilians—teachers, farmers, shopkeepers, wives, mothers, husbands, fathers and their children—wanted to enter the UN compound. They are stopped by a barricade that shuts them out of the UN compound because it is full. Aida’s husband and two sons are refused entry while Aida remains in relative safety. Safe haven was a misnomer and General Mladić’s resolve was unwavering and would result in the massacre of over 8,000 men and boys.

The massacre depicted in Quo Vadis, Aida? is an historical fact. Aida is a fictionalised account of one woman’s realisation that her task, to save her family and provide safety for the mass of fleeing people, is an impossible mission because the UN commander is helpless against the elite soldiers of General Mladić and the failure of the UN hierarchy to enact the ultimatum with which they threaten Mladić.

Her implorations to UN Commander Karremans are impassioned but to no avail. Jasna Djuricic’s performance as Aida shows fear, determination, anger, desire, frustration, hope and sadness. She is only one person but also symbolises the hopes of the entire mass of people who are awaiting their fates at the hands of the Bosnian soldiers. She faces a moral and personal dilemma. She is directed to translate exactly the words spoken by the Dutch commanders and unable to say anything to undermine Commander Karremans’s directions without causing panic, although she knows the refugees are doomed. Those refugees include her husband and sons.

General Mladić, Aida & Commander Karremans

Karremans does not have the troops to match the Bosnian Serb soldiers and, when faced with the calculating and fearsome General Mladić, a frightening performance by Boris Isakovic that simmers with a diabolical and ultimately deadly determination, capitulates in an ill-fated belief that he may be able to save the civilians and safeguard the UN safe haven. In his heart of hearts, he knows that Mladić is out for revenge against any Bosniak males of all ages who fought against the Bosnian Serbian soldiers. Mladić’s calm yet deliberate statement that no innocent person shall be harmed bristles with intent. The word innocent is a deadly weapon when spoken by Mladić.

Director Jasmila Žbanić chooses to understate the depiction of the massacre, yet it is that restraint that marks a harrowing impact on the audience. One of the most moving and affecting scenes involves an empty street and silence. You’ll know the scene when you see the movie. Although many people watching Quo Vadis, Aida? will know the historical details of the genocide that occurred at Srebrenica, Žbanić pushes the tension and impending horror towards the deadly tragedy of what will be unleashed by Mladić and his henchmen, particularly his sub-commander Joka, who is as threatening and deadly in his demeanour and actions as any human could be. The depiction of the events strikes at the core of our humanity. What is equally frightening and unsettling is that many of the people, including Mladić himself, managed to evade being tried as war criminals for many years and lived their lives normally among the people against whom they committed atrocities.

Interview: Director Jasmila Žbanić

Click the link then scroll down the production notes to read the interview with director Jasmila Žbanić

Spanish philosopher George Santayana is credited with the aphorism, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Quo Vadis, Aida? is a harrowing and emotionally charged film that only the coldest heart won't find moving. The monstrous events depicted in the movie and designed for maximum impact on the audience make the film difficult to watch yet that is exactly the reason that as many people as possible should see the film, especially in light of the current human tragedy caused by Russia invading Ukraine. When the veneer of historical fiction is stripped from Quo Vadis, Aida?, the tragic reality of conflict in our world today is displayed vividly. Because history can and does repeat itself.

Official Trailer Quo Vadis, Aida?

Photo stills, poster and trailer © Deblokada/Indie Productions


Eclectic Stefan's Advice: The films listed in Film Extras: Unimaginable Suffering are harrowing and draining to watch. You may wish to consider whether or not to watch them or to be in a receptive frame of mind when watching the movies. They are important films that highlight the most serious human tragedies but nonetheless are tough viewing. Consider your choices thoughtfully.


Hotel Rwanda (2005)

Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle), a Hutu, manages Hôtel des Mille Collines with his Tutsi wife (Sophie Okonedo) and their three children. When Hutu military forces initiate a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Tutsi minority, Paul is compelled to allow refugees to take shelter in his hotel. As the U.N. pulls out, Paul must struggle alone to protect the Tutsi refugees in the face of the escalating violence later known as the Rwandan genocide.


The Killing Fields (1984)

NY Times reporter Sydney Schanberg (Sam Waterston), interpreter Dith Pran (Haing S. Ngor) and US photojournalist Al Rockoff (John Malkovich) chronicle tyrant Pol Pot's bloody 'Year Zero' cleansing campaign, which claimed the lives of two million Cambodian civilians.


Schindler's List (1994)

Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), a German industrialist and member of the Nazi party, tries to save his Jewish employees after witnessing the persecution of Jews in Poland.

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