In July 1995, a Bosnian Serb paramilitary army led by Ratko Mladić massacred 8,372 Muslim men and boys in and around the town of Srebrenica.
For Quo Vadis, Aida?, writer-director Jasmila Žbanić has chosen to tell the story of the days leading up to the massacre from the point-of-view of Aida Selmanagic (Jasna Đuričić), a teacher who has taken a job as a translator for the Dutch NATO forces who are supposed to be protecting the locals in a “safe area.” The locals do not trust NATO to do so—and with good reason. Although the Dutch military officers plead with their superiors to call in air strikes against Mladić and his soldiers, the higher-ups refuse.
As it becomes clear that Mladić will indeed massacre the thousands of males who have sought refuge inside and in front of the NATO compound, Aida desperately tries to protect the lives of her husband and their two sons. Because in Srebrenica’s schools Christian and Muslim students were integrated, some of the young soldiers in Mladić’s militia recognize Aida, greet her warmly and ask after her sons.
Quo Vadis, Aida? is a harrowing film. It is hardly the first to deal with the Srebrenica massacre. My favorite (if such a word can be used when discussing such an awful subject) is Belvedere, a Bosnian film that takes place 15 years after the massacre and shows that such tragedies do not end when the killing is over.
Indeed, Žbanić herself has dealt with the Bosnian War in her previous films, most notably Grbavica, which won the Golden Bear, the top award, at the 2006 Berlin Film Festival.
Žbanić has said that Quo Vadis, Aida? was inspired by the true story of Hasan Nuhanović, who served as a translator for the Dutch in Srebrenica. His parents and his brother were murdered by the Serbs, and Nuhanović has spent many years attempting to force the United Nations and the Dutch government to accept responsibility for the Srebrenica massacre.
For the record, Ratko Mladić was finally arrested in Serbia in 2011, and in 2017 the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) convicted him of crimes against humanity. He is currently imprisoned in The Hague.