Quo Vadis, Aida?, the Bosnian entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 93rd Academy Awards, gives light to the events leading up to the 1995 Srebrenica genocide which resulted in the deaths of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims. The protagonist is the titular Aida, a translator for the UN trapped in the center of conflict during the Bosnian war, and her struggle is to keep her husband and sons safe from harm.
It’s easy to spectacularize these tragedies whether consciously or not. In handling the material, no doubt writer-director Jasmila Žbanić did it with care. Violence is replaced by tenderness, for the dedication to never revisit the pain and the atrocities unprocessed is there.
However, while the film is depicted with sensitivity, it is not exclusive to say that Quo Vadis, Aida? is mired in a narrow viewpoint.
The film’s thorn is the nature of the source material from which it was adapted from. Because it relies heavily on existing survivor accounts, it is limited in its perspective. And because of its anecdotal nature, the film is susceptible to be read as a passive validation for individualism in times of crisis, if peeled from its alluring layer of gender struggle/”empowerment”.
Yes, the film makes sure you sympathize with the filmic Aida and her family, but with them alone. The filmic Aida’s actions show she cares for her kin’s safety, but the film portrays the others as nuisance to her efforts. Furthermore, with the filmic Aida as the buffer of the UN peacemakers, the film made us sympathize more with the UN’s ineptness than with the actual victims.
This should not put blame on the actions of the real-life historical figures, but the choice of the film’s narrative framing. Historical dramas are tricky because of this. There is the dilemma of echoing what source texts manifest versus taking liberties to adjust the film to the effect and message you’d want to convey. The film no doubt already took creative and dramatic liberties, as all films based on history do, so what’s stated above is not an unwarranted (or forbid, because of the weight of the subject material – “offensive”) point of criticism to make.
But for what framing Quo Vadis, Aida? did show, it nonetheless carried the material in a tasteful manner.
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