Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Movie with Abe: Quo Vadis, Aida?

Quo Vadis, Aida?
Directed by Jasmila Zbanic
Released March 15, 2021

The job of a translator is a unique one. Like clerks or secretaries, they are often privy to high-level information because of the need to record or communicate it, even and especially if they have no control over what happens with it. But unlike those support roles, a translator is almost always present in the most intimate and important settings since they must serve as a bridge between multiple parties to help them understand each other. That can be a weighty task, especially if the subject of conversation is sensitive. It can also be devastating because it leaves them powerless in the face of horrors, as hauntingly depicted in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s official Oscar submission.

Aida (Jasna Djuricic) is a resident of Srebrenica in July 1995 serving as an interpreter for the UN peacekeepers who have established a presence as Serbian forces invade the area. She follows commanders around the base, translating directives to the hundreds of Bosnian people gathered inside and the hundreds more crowded around outside waiting to be let in. As General Ratko Mladic (Boris Isakovic) meets with the UN’s Colonel Karremans (Johan Heldenbergh) to demand the deportation of all residents of Srebrenica, Aida tries every way she can to ensure protection and safe passage out of the city for her husband and two sons, who are outside the walls of the base.

This film is a powerful and immensely disturbing look at the perpetration of a genocide that occurred frighteningly recently, with men suspected of being members of the Bosnian military executed just outside the UN base and buses coordinated to transport residents to an unknown location with no realistic possibility for oversight from the neutral peacekeeping forces. The fact that the UN is present should provide some sense of security and prevent such atrocities, yet minimal orders from the supervising body and impulsive, in-the-moment decisions make it all the more horrifying that these events were allowed to occur even with the world supposedly watching and placed there to stop them.

The central character of Aida makes this particular film all the more poignant since she is valued for her mastery of English, the language that the mostly Dutch soldiers utilize, and she attempts to use her position to curry favor for those she cannot bear to see put in harm’s way. Djuricic’s performance is remarkable, standing in for a frenzied audience who will surely find this film’s events deeply unsettling. Its starkest moments come not when Aida is pleading desperately for the lives of her family or when brutal mass murder are being committed, but when a former student of Aida’s, now a Serbian militant, greets his former teacher as she stands trembling within the outdoor boundaries of the base. This film works on many levels as both a cinematic journey in its own right and a necessary testament to needless loss of life and the unimaginable consequences of violent hatred.


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