WAR IS WELL-TRODDEN story-telling material. It’s about loyalties and politics, love and conflict. It’s about cruelty and kindness, territory and wealth. In short, it’s a microcosm of what makes society tick, ramped up to its most violent. Jasmila Zbanic’s film Quo Vadis, Aida? an extraordinary tale of a woman at her fiercest, thrust in the complicated mess of the Bosnian war of 1995 will be available online and without cost, as part of the 8th European Film Festival South Africa, which runs from 14 until 24 October 2021. Bookings opened this morning.
This is not an ordinary or a conventional war story, however. It’s a foray into the devastating massacre of 8 372 Bosniak men and boys at Srebrenica, a town in Eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina which saw the United Nations reneging on a promise of protection to civilians and compromising everything it theoretically stands for. But it is also a yarn about a woman, Aida (Jasna Durocic), and how she holds onto her sense of equilibrium through massive betrayal, an understanding of her value as a translator, a mother, a wife, a teacher and a person being forced to face the ultimate in loss.
Pushing the envelope of the role of a translator into an awareness of talking with the enemy, it is a work that makes you feel how the balance of power teeters on the shoulders of ordinary people with skills deemed important for the moment. On a level, it evokes For Sama, a film dealing with being a mother in Aleppo, which featured on the Encounters Film Festival a couple of years ago, only with the edge of acting professionals.
With very astute filmography that takes you into the heart of every crowd scene and gives every individual person in that crowd a sense of humanity, the work makes you feel as though you are there, not for the ‘ag shame’ factor, but for the grotesque injustices with which ordinary civilians were bludgeoned. The narrative unfolds with bold lines and the horror it reveals in its denouement is its pinnacle; it becomes an essay in fury and sacredness that reaches beyond the grasp of ordinary tales that the entertainment industry tells us are meant to end happily.
There are moments in this piece which bring Aida face to face with the most horrifying reality any person could confront. Directorially, these moments are handled with great beauty and wisdom. It is a pair of shoes that is the cipher that enables Aida to connect a pallet of charred remains with her most beloved ones.
But it is Durocic in the role of Aida that takes the belly of this film and fills it with such potent conviction and realness that you will be left bruised, emotionally, after watching her. She is like the Frances McDormand of Bosnian film culture, in terms of the unmitigated presence she brings to her role. You know her. In some respects, you are her. She is everywoman. She is the voice of dignity and self-belief, uttered through a mesh of family loyalty and commitment to work. And she can laugh and cry and be, from the gut.
This film is as much about being in the world as it is about history in the making, filthy politics in the air and the degrading depths to which humanity can sink. But it is also about the cycle of life and the promise that small children with fluttering fingers can offer to the future.
Quo Vadis, Aida? is directed by Jasmila Zbanic and is performed by a cast headed by Alija Alievic, Dino Bajrovic, Izudin Bajrovic, Aldin Baljic, Vitalie Bantas, Jan Mark Bogmis, Joes Brauers, Ermin Bravo, Reinout Bussemaker, Ibrahim Buzaliko, Hadzija Hadzibairamovic, Sanne den Hartogh, Jasna Djuricic, Mirsad Elezi, Juda Goslinga, Niels Gomperts, Rijad Gvozden, Emir Hadzihafizbegovic, Johan Heldenbergh, Adi Hrustemovic, Micha Hulshof, Boris Isakovic, Hermans Henricius Johannes, Ali Kamer Aksoy, Jelena Kordic, Sasa Krmpotic, Merima Lepic, Boris Ler, Teun Luijkx, Mario Knezovic, Sanela Krsmanovic, Damir Mahmutovic, Edita Malovcic, Nikolina Maric, Irena Melcer, Dalibor Mijan, Luna Zimic Mijovic, Sanin Milavic, Emina Muftic, Nusmir Muharemovic, Irena Mulamuhic, Sasa Orucevic, Jasenko Pasic, Drazen Pavlovic, Thomas Pedevilla, Job Raaimakers, Kemal Rizvanovic, Ermin Sijamija, Emir Spahic, Thomas Stevaert, Raymond Thiry, Sinisa Udovicic, Alban Ukai, Slaven Vidak, Vedran Vilogorac, Sol Vinken and Jovan Zivanovic. Written by Jasmila Zbanic inspired by the book Under the UN Flag, by Hasan Nuhanovic, it is produced by Damir Ibrahimovich and Jasmila Zbanic and features creative input by Antoni Lazarkiewicz (music), Christine A Maier (cinematography), Jaroslaw Kaminski (editing), Narcisa Cvitanovi and Rebecca van Unen (casting), Hannes Salat (production design) and Malgorzata Karpiuk and Ellen Lens (costumes). In Bosnian, Serbian and Dutch with English subtitles, it is part of the 8th European Film Festival South Africa, screening online and without cost from 14-24 October 2021. Bookings are now open.