TIFF: Jasmila Žbanic’s finely crafted epic exposes unspeakable Bosnian War horrors through the eyes of a mother and UN translator.
Films set among genocide can border on “trauma porn,” while a few like “Life Is Beautiful” and “The Pianist” reach divine heights by setting deeply human stories amongst unimaginable horrors. “Quo Vadis, Aida?”, the latest film from celebrated Bosnian filmmaker Jasmila Žbanic, is one such transcendent entry into the genre. The fact that the tragedy at its center is rarely remembered outside of its region makes it all the more powerful as a vital work of art.
The film dramatizes the horrific events of the Srebrenica massacre, otherwise known as the Srebrenica genocide, during which Serbian troops sent 8,372 Bosniak men and boys to their deaths in July 1995. Named for its fearless protagonist, “Quo Vadis, Aida?” exposes the events through the eyes of a mother named Aida (Jasna Ðuričić), a schoolteacher who works with the United Nations as a translator. After three and a half years under siege, the town of Srebrenica, close to the northeastern Serbian border, was declared a UN “safety zone” in 1993 and put under the protection of a Dutch battalion working for the UN.
The film opens with Aida translating a negotiation between the town mayor and a Dutch colonel. She’s a neutral observer, but the exchange escalates quickly and leaves town officials feeling uneasy. A man and his two adult sons evacuate their modest apartment, hurrying through mundane tasks like borrowing sneakers and emptying the cash box. Despite the UN’s promises, bombs begin to descend and the entire town evacuates to the Dutch-controlled UN base. However, the base can only hold so many and nearly 20,000 people are stranded outside, straining toward the wire fence separating them from their promised shelter.
Competent and steadfast, Aida bounces between the doctor and other high-ranking officers, dutifully translating their panicked orders and mixed signals. In between tasks, she scurries away to find her husband and sons, the three men from the earlier domestic scene. They didn’t make it onto the base, so Aida convinces the officers to let them in: When the Republika Srpska general Mladic (Boris Isaković) demands a civilian committee to act as negotiators, she shrewdly volunteers her husband, earning him and their sons passage.
Huddled together on the base, where people have nowhere to relieve themselves, her son lights up a cigarette. “What did I say about smoking?”, Aida chides, as her husband tells her to let up. “My birthday is in two days,” her younger son remarks, and the family exchange bittersweet smiles. Such moments of respite are brief, although Aida does allow herself a small toke of a joint shared by a young nurse. As she closes her eyes and dozes off briefly, she is transported to happier times — a colorful party with familiar faces laughing and dancing. Holding hands in a circle, each figure gazes directly into the camera as they round the dance floor.
Žbanic builds tension slowly, never dropping the pressure but allowing the characters (and audience) room to breathe amongst the chaos. Up until the film’s harrowing final moments, the director only alludes to the most horrific details, keeping these just offscreen. A distant silhouette of a man shitting in the crowd; a potentially lethal armed search that ends with loaves of bread flying overhead; an attractive young woman dragged off to an unseen fate. It’s a merciful choice, and an effective one: The audience remains in Aida’s cautiously optimistic shoes, convinced she will find a way to save her family despite all evidence to the contrary. It’s an elegant way to tell a war story that preserves the characters’ humanity, but make the inevitable tragic ending all the more devastating.
Like her debut film “Grbavica,” which received the Berinale’s Golden Bear in 2006, Žbanic continues to center women’s perspectives in her work. War films are too often the realm of male directors, with their relentless violence and explosive action scenes. And yet, as Bosniaks know too well, too often it is women who must bear the brunt of war traumas and are left to pick up the pieces.
In “Quo Vaids, Aida?”, Žbanic lays bare the deeply human toll of violence and war. It’s not all IEDs and secret missions, which can glorify a trauma most filmmakers never endured. The simpler horrors are far more haunting: the former classmate sitting across from you with a gun, or the torturer wishing you good day years later. Beyond bullet holes and body counts, unimaginable atrocities give way to everyday indignities, thousands of tiny cuts overlaid on the unbearable weight of memory.
“Quo vadis, Aida?” premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 13. It is currently seeking distribution.
Southern Charm: Season Seven Premiere Teased by Bravo
Republican Senators Pen Letter To Netflix Over ‘GoT’ Creators’ New Series ‘The Three-Body Problem’
Republican senators have sent a letter to Netflix chief content officer and co-CEO Ted Sarandos pushing back against the streaming service’s upcoming series The Three-Body Problem. Netflix announced September 1 that Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are adapting Liu Cixin’s science-fiction trilogy The Three-Body Problem for the streamer with the help of The Terror: Infamy writer Alexander Woo and executive producers Rian Johnson and Rosamund Pike. The letter claims that by producing the series Netflix is “normalizing” the imprisonment of Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province.
The senators point to an interview Three-Body Problem author Liu Cixin gave in 2019 to The New Yorker in which he expressed approval over the imprisonment of Uighur Muslims. Human right abuses are reportedly taking place in Xinjiang province, including the detainment of over one million Uighur Muslims.
When asked in 2019 about imprisoning Muslims in Xinjiang, Liu Cixin responded, “Would you rather that they be hacking away at bodies at train stations and schools in terrorist attacks? If anything, the government is helping their economy and trying to lift them out of poverty.”
The letter to Netflix is signed by Martha McSally (R., Ariz.), Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), Rick Scott (Fla.), Kevin Cramer (R., N.D.), and Thom Tillis (R., N.C.). The Republican members ask Netflix to rethink its working relationship with Liu Cixin considering his comments, while adding, “Does Netflix agree that the Chinese Communist Party’s interment of 1.8 to 3 million Uyghurs in internment or labor camps based on their ethnicity is unacceptable?”
“Netflix’s company culture statement asserts that ‘Entertainment, like friendship, is a fundamental human need; it changes how we feel and gives us common ground,’” the letter concludes. “This statement is a beautiful summary of the value of the American entertainment industry, which possesses innovation largely unmatched in the global market. We ask Netflix to seriously reconsider the implications of providing a platform to Mr. Liu in producing this project.”
Disney came under fire earlier this month for filming its live-action Mulan adaptation in parts of the Xinjiang province. The end credits of Mulan also include a “special thanks” to the “publicity department of CPC Xinjiang Uighur Autonomy Region Committee” and to the public security bureau in the city of Turpan, which is where detainment centers are reportedly in operation.
With the first installment of the Three-Body Problem series, Liu Cixin became the first writer in Asia to win the prestigious Hugo Award. The book is set during the Cultural Revolution when humans establish contact with an alien civilization on the edge of extinction. After the aliens invade earth, humans split off into two camps: one in favor of takeover by the superior aliens and the other determined to resist.
IndieWire has reached out to Netflix for further comment.
Marvel confirms premiere date in spooky trailer for Helstrom
One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s lesser-known (and mostly unconnected) releases, Helstrom, is due to drop next month, so now it seems like the perfect time for a trailer.
The final MCU TV show that isn’t part of Disney+ – it’s a Hulu exclusive in the United States – is a horror-themed affair focused on two siblings with a serial killer parent and some strange powers.
Related: Agents of SHIELD star describes Marvel cancelling Ghost Rider as an “opportunity lost” for diversity
As you can see in the trailer, Daimon and Ana Helstrom (Tom Austen and Sydney Lemmon, respectively) are reunited when their mother (House of Cards‘ Elizabeth Marvel) starts acting up, and endeavour to stop some supernatural bad guys. Obviously there are plenty of people who are out to stop them.
While the editing and music are pretty clichéd when it comes to trailers, there are some lovely shots in this (the one with the flowers in particular is very nice), and some creepy spooks. There’s also plenty of snark, just to remind you that this is a Marvel joint.
Related: WandaVision Easter eggs tie into Captain Marvel 2 and wider MCU
Marvel moved into the horror genre on the film side of things with the Fox X-Men spin-off The New Mutants, which was perennially delayed before finally coming out in cinemas last month. Reviews for it were pretty negative across the board, so let’s hope that Helstrom fares better.
Helstrom will drop every episode on Hulu in the US on October 16.
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