Depicting historic events in an art form is not an easy challenge. For movies, directors have to walk the fine line between over-dramatizing/-fictionalizing and being didactic or documentary-like. They also have very little room in terms of the plot because the events already occurred. Regardless of these challenges, <Quo Vadis, Aida?> rises to the top.
<Quo Vadis, Aida?> is about Srebrenica massacre, a genocidal killing of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim in Bosnia’s Srebrenica region in 1995. While showing the general development of the event until the massacre, it follows a fictional character Aida, a Bosnian interpreter who works for the UN. Because of her job, we get to see interactions between political and diplomatic forces. But because she is also from Srebrenica and has a family, we also get to see how the townsfolk tries to survive. Her effort to save her family while doing her job as an interpreter creates constant tension throughout the movie, which reduces the distance between the audience and the film.
The film does a good job at depicting the event as realistic as possible. Refugees waiting outside the Dutchbat base were shown as a huge crowd and the camera takes time to show individual refugees’ clothes, faces, and their behaviors. It never just focuses on Aida’s story, which delivers the message that a war affects a mass, and every victim should be respected. Thanks to this authenticity, Aida’s fictional storyline can be blended easily too.
But it also does not miss the opportunity of being a film medium. Aida’s dream sequence shows a dance of townsfolk before the war. For several minutes, it shows townspeople’s neutral and somewhat dark faces staring at the camera. One would wonder whether this implies the impending grim future. This sequence is mirrored at the end of the movie, the post-war time scene at Srebrenica. There we see some familiar faces, men from the previous sequence who are now older. It would mean that these men either survived the massacre or joined the massacre as murderers. We also find women who went through harrowing experience during the event. This means that not every participant of the massacre was punished and they are now living among the victims. It is soon followed by scenes of children’s neutral faces. It suggests anyone can become a victim or a perpetrator in the future, and thus the fragility of the future lies ahead of us.
However, I do think the movie ends with a hopeful note. At the very end of the movie, we see Aida’s face. It is difficult to read but it is not grimacing. Rather, it looks like she is watching the kids from a distance and contemplating. The fact that Aida is a teacher and went back to Srebrenica to teach young kids symbolizes that the next generation can learn from our history and make a different choice to build a better future.