A war refugee from Bosnia, who now lives, writes and teaches in Sweden, reviews Quo Vadis, Aida?, the Oscar nominee Film about a UN translator in Srebrenica when the Serbian army took over the city in July 1995. Finally, after considering both the praise and criticism, he asks: Why are we annoyed as if this film is the first and last expression of the Bosnian genocide? ?
There is no other way for me than to be personally in my review of Jasmila Žbanićs Quo Vadis, Aida? For me, being personal is the only way to be objective. After all, I wear several hats when I write: a survivor of the war, a refugee, a writer, a literature professor.
Quo Vadis, Aida? takes place in July 1995 in East Bosnia. Aida is translating for the UN in Srebrenica when the Serbian army takes over the city, and her own family ends up among the thousands of civilians taking refuge in the UN camp. The title comes from the famous episode in early Christianity when St. Peter, fleeing from the crucifixion in Rome, meets the risen Jesus who asks him Quō vādis? (Where are you going?) To which he replies Rōmam eō iterum crucifīgī (I am going to Rome to be crucified again). Intercultural resonance abounds when the Muslim Aida, as an insider in the negotiations between the UN and the Serbian army, keeps running back and forth between rulers in the hope that her poor access to political strategies will help her to get her husband and her two together save sons.
Until recently, I didn’t want to see the film. I was determined not to see it. The reason for this was my prior knowledge of the manufacturing process (more precisely the script). The film is loosely based on the life of Hasan Nuhanović, the famous translator who survived the genocide, testified against war criminals, chronicled the genocide and took the Netherlands away dish for Srebrenica’s exposure to genocide, and won. Nuhanović wrote many times on his Facebook page about the problems he had with Žbanić, how she absorbed the so-called artistic freedoms with his story and often weakened certain aspects of the genocide through factual inaccuracies. Since then, he has commented on certain scenes he saw on YouTube, such as certain issues relating to the representation of UN soldiers, but to my knowledge he has not seen the entire film. From what he had written as a writer, I couldn’t understand how the narrative would require changes to the details that he considered essential.
Like any contemporary genocide denial, this discourse is like Schrödinger’s box.
The film premiered at the Srebrenica Memorial Center in Potočari, next to the cemeteries of all victims identified so far. Many of the people whose opinions I value and whose judgments I trust praised the film. The highest praise came from all parts of the world, except of course from Serbia. Denial of the genocide is an essential part of everyday life there and in the so-called Republika Srpska in Bosnia. Some people, whose opinions I also greatly respect, were utterly disappointed with the film, which characterized it as the rosy version of the genocide and, for that reason, was untrue and uninstructive. Imagine this: Two groups say the film is not true. The first consists of genocide deniers who say it is too tough for the Serbs. The other argues that Žbanić did not portray war crimes in full and in their reality. It would be more than ridiculous to even think of the first one. Like any contemporary genocide denial, this discourse is like Schrödinger’s box. As long as the box is closed, the perpetrators in the quantum heads of the perpetrators can both deny this and brag about it. Denial of genocide is a disease of our time and a continuation of the intent of genocide. The second complaint is not negligible. Out of respect for Nuhanović, it should be taken seriously, if no one else. And yet the film is quite excellent.
Its aesthetic is undoubtedly soft. The crux of the horrific war crimes – mass executions, torture, mass graves, moving bodies from one pit to another to cover up genocide – is implied. This is a common way of making something unbearable visible. Žbanić knows most of us and not only takes into account the feelings of international audiences who cannot see the horror directly and do not want to see aestheticized extreme war crimes. I started watching it at home with my wife and five minutes later she went to bed even though it was only eight o’clock and I was left alone in the dark. She suddenly had trouble breathing. I understand that some wanted the film to be educational in other ways. They are suspicious of the strength of the “implied” which is doomed to them to remain invisible to the new generations who will not see it with eyes full of memories like my wife’s. At best, these critics say, it might inspire them to seek more facts about those few fateful days when more than eight thousand men and boys were systematically executed and thrown into Bosnian abysses, none of which are shown in the film. This should be a legitimate way of interpreting the movie. At the same time, I couldn’t deny that even this supposedly rosy version, which mitigates the debt of the UN, goes deep. As the Bosnian-Swedish critic Sanjin Pejković writes, it is amazing how Žbanić manages to stay focused and clear and yet bridge the time before, during and after the genocide and how she tells a universal story without turning it into a collectivist one Transform brochure.
I couldn’t deny that even this supposedly rosy version, which mitigates the debt of the UN, goes deep.
I think she has a lot to thank the female lead Jasna Đuričić for, who carries the narrative in the most amazing way. She not only conveys the feelings of her own character, but of all other characters. She is our Frances McDormand. She is practically the only fully fledged face / figure, the only one who is fully humanized and has serious depth in the ongoing dehumanization of the Bošnjak masses who are crying out for help outside of the UN compound. The scenes outside the security zone, which are supposedly protected and controlled by the Dutchbat, show in an astonishing way the revelation of the population, the betrayal by the UNO (read: the world). And the scenes in the buildings full of refugees. The way in which Žbanić contrasts the safe from the inside with the insecure outside shows very effectively that this dichotomy is utter nonsense and that the people inside are just as exposed. This is crystal clear, for example, when the Serbian soldiers from the United Nations, although this is against the regulations, come in with weapons and are allowed to inspect the refugees in order to search for terrorists by surprise. Sounds familiar. It should. Learn the lesson. At the same time Aida is trying to save her family by adding them to the list of UN agents, the command refuses because they are waiting to break the rules. The UN’s hypocrisy is visible to those with an eye for it, but at the same time, as Nuhanović has pointed out, Žbanić only makes the UN look pathetic and makes them victims of international politics, suffering moral concerns when their commanders refuse to order air strikes . In truth, Nuhanović said, General Thom Karremans was very much on board in making this decision. The UN soldiers humiliated the refugees.
The strongest scenes for me were at the very end, when Aida returns to Srebrenica and shows things that few really talk about: the overwhelming horror of the afterlife of the survivors who have to live next to war criminals and whose children are taught by the perpetrators. This widespread genocide is the reality of all returnees brought about by the normalization of political structures in which convicted or not yet convicted war criminals roam free and lead normal lives next to you and your family and give you the right to identity, language, and proper civil life Life. Men and boys were killed, but the triumph of the perpetrators of the genocide was imprinted on the bodies of women. Žbanić tries to suggest all of this to the attentive audience.
What is the final verdict? As many have said, is the film Žbanić’s best work to date, a remarkable masterpiece that deserves all the awards it has been nominated for (Oscars, Bafta, Golden Lion)? Or, as some fellow countryman critics have said, is it the rosy version of the genocide that is better left unfilmed than being filmed in any way?
Why do we resent as if this film is the first and last expression of the Bosnian genocide?
There is no doubt that, despite some flaws in terms of historicity, the film has many qualities that make it a worthy expression of genocide and definitely worthy of all the awards it receives (as I write this) and in the Film will come in the future. In the end, when I see the film with different eyes and all the different hats, my question is: Why do we get angry as if this film is the first and last expression of the Bosnian genocide? I think many survivors are complaining because they wonder how many other ways there will be to tell this story on a global scale. Will global popular culture just be content and any other film than, Not another one about these little people. Will they stop whining?? Not only is this fear real, it is very justified. The genocide denial industry has forced so many of us to constantly work on collections of narratives in all forms and media. Surely anyone in need of deeper knowledge can turn to the hundreds of testimonies and historical documents collected in The Hague and the Srebrenica Memorial Center, but will they or will they say we saw it? Quo Vadis, Aida? As many of us might say we’ve seen Schindlers List or Life is beautiful and therefore do you know what we need to know about the Holocaust? We’ve seen Hotel Rwanda, and that is enough?
We should be braver and not assume that this is the first and last film about Srebrenica.
I want to use this would-be review to suggest that we should be bolder and not assume that this is the first and last film about Srebrenica. There should be more. We should see Quo Vadis, Aida? As just one of countless excellent attempts to preserve the memory of crime, we hope it will never happen to God again. There should be more differences in our collective ways of relating our experiences and memories. All together should be slightly larger than the sum of their fragments. This movie is not about making it or breaking it. Praise and criticism are necessary and part of the memory and history discourse, but they should not be based on the idea that an expression is the be-all and end-all.
Go and see Quo Vadis, Aida? I don’t think you will remain unmoved. Or forgotten.