“I’m doing everything within my power.”
Quo Vadis, Aida? is a fictionalized story based on true events during the Bosnian War. Directed by Jasmila Žabanić, it has been nominated for an Oscar in the Best International Feature Category. It was submitted by Bosnia and Herzegovina. It recounts the fall of the town of Srebrenica and the resulting genocide carried out by the Serbian army.
Aida Selmanagić (Jasna Đuričić) is a Srebrenica school teacher who is serving as a translator for UN peacekeeping forces. The colonel leading the Dutch military contingent has been assuring the people of the town that they are protected and that the UN is prepared to attack the Serbs if they try to take the city. But when the Serbs come, the UN fails to carry out the threats of their ultimatums. The people evacuate the city, four or five thousand get inside the Dutch compound, but several thousands more are outside the compound seeking safety within. Aida is safe as an employee of the UN, but her husband and sons are outside the walls.
As an insider to the negotiations, Aida has information that the rest of her community does not have. She manages to find a way to get the family inside, but even then, the situation continues to deteriorate as the impotence of the UN forces becomes more and more obvious.
This is a film about helplessness. We especially see it in Aida as she struggles to save her family, but it is also true for the Dutch military leaders. They have been left out to dry by NATO and UN political decisions. When the colonel in charge tries to call up the command chain, he is told no one is available. Many times throughout the film, military people and Aida are pushed to tell people things they know are not true. The colonel admits early on, “I’m just a piano player.” (I.e., he’s only a messenger.) That is often the role that Aida finds herself in as well. Bringing messages that have no real force or meaning.
Aida is stuck in the middle—between her job and her family and the wider community. The Dutch are in the middle, delivering flaccid threats, then having to follow orders and regulations rather than saving lives.
When in school and learning to identify themes in literature, one of those overall themes that frequently recur is “Man’s inhumanity to man”. That phrase seems inadequate to describe genocide. We watch it play out, seeing the faces of so many we know to be doomed, and discovering that even those who care about what is happening are helpless to stop it. The film really doesn’t look at the geopolitical background. That would just be a diversion. The reality is that the world, like Aida, seems to be powerless in the face of the evil of such strife.
Quo Vadis, Aida? is playing in theaters, through virtual cinema, and on Hulu.