In the disturbing Oscar nomination Quo vadis, Aida?, one woman is desperate to save her family in the face of genocide while the audience has to put on their Google hats to understand the atrocities looming and what the heck “Quo Vadis, Aida?” means.
Written and directed by Jasmila Zbanic, Quo vadis, Aida? is an extremely suspenseful, albeit cold, drama depicting the days leading up to the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, dubbed genocide by the international community. More than 8,000 people were murdered by the Serbian army, even though the United Nations was directly present in the conflict.
Quo vadis, Aida?, which apparently means “Where are you going, Aida?” follows a UN translator named Aida, played by Jasna Djuricic. Djuricic is fantastic in the film and expresses the fear, despair, and utter fear of a woman who has just enough power to give her hope of salvation, but maybe not enough to make a difference in the end.
Why the distributor Neon chose not to translate the title from a language that few speak is a mystery to me, although I’m probably the only one who cares or even mentions it in a movie review. But Zbanic chooses to get us right in the middle of the action with little extra help, forcing us to piece together what happens when things escalate. It’s not the biggest problem, but a more historical context would have helped. The film has a supposed quality that is not entirely satisfactory.
And yet, Quo vadis, Aida? works with a constant sense of fear and premonition and methodically and unreservedly fills his saucepan until it explodes. It’s hard to take your eyes off the screen, even when much of the film is just setting the stage for its sobering climax. Zbanic’s intent is to demonstrate the feeling of hopelessness and fear among the refugees, as well as the utter uselessness and false promises of protecting the United Nations, and in that regard the film does its job well.
But as excellent as Djuricic is and as emotionally resonant as her character is, the decision to focus so exclusively on her – there are other characters, yes, but almost always seen through Aida’s eyes – doesn’t work completely. It is cold Quo vadis, Aida?, his no-nonsense approach sacrifices something bigger, more powerful. Something great always comes close, but never quite does it.
Quo vadis, Aida? is worth seeing for portraying a horrific historical event and for Djuricic’s dazzling performance, even if it doesn’t quite live up to expectations.
Rating by Erik Samdahl, unless otherwise stated.