Quo Vadis, Aida ?, Jasmila Žbanić’s heartbreaking 1995 Genocide in Srebrenica, the Bosnian War endgame, is the Bosnian entry this year in the Foreign Feature Film category at the Oscars. Directed by Žbanić and produced by his small independent company Deblokada, the film is set to rival the film industry’s favorite film – Another Round, a Danish comedy-drama about men’s bonds, the midlife crisis and binge drinking. alcohol. The contrast between the worlds that the two films inhabit and represent could not be greater.
In the eyes of those of us who lived through the horrors of the Bosnian war, Quo Vadis, Aida? is a masterpiece that truly deserves an Oscar.
It is an intimate film about mass political violence that took place in Srebrenica, where 8,372 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed in what is now called “Europe’s only genocide after the Second World War”. What distinguishes genocide from a massacre or mass shooting, even of a large number of victims, is that it is a premeditated, planned and systematically carried out act of violence against a population. target.
Quo Vadis, Aida? tackles this very important distinction remarkably well. The film’s narrative centers on a fictional Bosnian performer for the UN – a local English teacher named Aida played by Jasna Ðuričić – who tries to save the lives of her husband and son.
Many viewers will immediately recognize the references to actual events in some of the key scenes: for example, the Bosnian Serb army under the command of General Ratko Mladić entering the UN protected “safe zone” and thousands of Civilians flock to Colonel Thom Karremans and his Dutch peacekeeping battalion to ask for protection. The actual violence is not depicted in the film – and it doesn’t have to be.
For the film so successfully conveys the feeling that everyone knew violence was coming but failed to stop it – that its portrayal is far more heartbreaking than any gory visualization. With incredible intensity, almost never losing sight of Aida’s face, the film weaves its way between hopes and contingencies of survival and the inevitability of genocide; between the urgency to act before the predetermined and deadly conclusion and the bureaucratic pettiness and inertia of the UN. Amid the procrastination of the international community, death – already announced – finds its horrible place.
Twenty-five years after Srebrenica, this knowledge of heralded but unavoidable death is still carried – as the film shows in its haunting post-conflict coda – by the surviving women of Srebrenica.
But as there are bearers of this knowledge, there are also deniers. Today, the certainty of genocide continues to be questioned not only by politicians in Republika Srpska and Serbia proper, whose power rests on genocide denial, but also by some Western intellectuals. Just two years ago, the Swedish Nobel Prize committee shocked genocide survivors by awarding a Nobel Prize to longtime genocide denier Peter Handke. Recognized as a “massacre”, the Bosnian genocide is also used cynically by the Russian government in its twisted rhetoric threatening the invasion of Ukraine.
The international community’s inaction in the face of the Bosnian and Rwandan genocides prompted it to develop a new international legal infrastructure – first the international courts and then, finally, the International Criminal Court. This has led to a review of United Nations peacekeeping operations and the development of new normative frameworks – the Women, Peace and Security and Responsibility to Protect Program – to ensure that action is taken against future violence.
But in the politics and geopolitics of the past two decades, that progress has been wasted by the disastrous US-led “war on terror”, among other ill-conceived interventions. Action, in the name of life, once again appears excluded.
With incredible dignity, the main character of Žbanić searches for the remains of her husband and sons while teaching children about authors at a school in Srebrenica. In the film’s closing scene, children use their hands to cover and reveal their eyes in a school performance, just as the world continues to do in their relationship to systemic political violence always imagined as far away and the problem of someone else.
An Oscar for Quo Vadis, Aida? may signal a determination in the West to honor and prioritize human lives when threatened with extermination. Such choices, without a doubt, are always political. Throughout the pandemic, many governments have prioritized the economy and their own political survival over the lives of their citizens – especially if those citizens have also turned out to be underrepresented minorities.
Quo Vadis, Aida? asks its viewers not only to uncover their eyes, but also to speak out against wrongdoing. Far from being a call for peace and reconciliation, the film is a call for ethics and a policy of responsibility. Quo Vadis, Aida? deserves an Oscar for the mastery of its cinematographic language which strongly represents an unrepresentable event. He deserves an Oscar for the mothers of Srebrenica and the genocide survivors who still fight to be heard. But it also deserves an Oscar for reminding us of the depths of the moral abyss we fall into whenever we fail to prevent the violence that has been so clearly heralded.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.