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Quo Vadis, Aida

Director: Jasmila Žbanić

Stars: Jasna Đuričić, Johan Heldenbergh, Izudin Barjović, Dino Barjović, Boris Ler, Boris Isakovic.

International co-productions can often be well-meaning but muddled affairs. This riveting and heart-rending drama, set during the Srebrenica massacre, bucks that trend triumphantly.

The massacre occurred in 1995 when the Bosnian Serb army bombarded the town of Srebrenica killing over eight thousand Muslim men and boys, while the UN looked on impotently and deliberated over air strikes that were never carried out.

Aida (Đuričić) is a local translator, formerly a teacher, working at a nearby Dutch-run UN facility that is only able to accommodate a fraction of the refugees fleeing from the attack. Via loudspeaker she relates UN instructions to the vast crowd of displaced townspeople. Her youngest son, seventeen-year-old wannabe rock star Sejo (Barjović) has managed to join her in the facility, but the elder Hamdija (Ler) and husband Nihad (Barjović) remain outside. Aida pleads with the UN commanding officer Colonel Karremans (Heldenbergh) to admit them, knowing all too well that would mean denying others a chance of survival. When the swaggering Serbian General Mladic (Isakovic) and his soldiers (a couple of them Aida’s former pupils) enters the facility with UN staff unable to prevent them, the situation becomes more perilous.

Director Žbanić maintains a frenetic pace, but never resorts to sensationalism, while the deployment of hundreds of extras effectively illustrates the scale of the crisis. A flashback in which Aida is shown taking part in a local charity beauty pageant provides a sliver of dark humour, her lining up with the other contestants holding a bleakly ironic mirror up to the sequences in which refugees outside the UN camp wait to be picked and admitted into the camp.

Đuričić is extraordinary as the titular character, exhibiting a compelling combination of compassion, diplomatic savvy and atavistic maternal impulse, as Aida struggles to stay one step ahead of a rapidly deteriorating situation.

Quo Vadis, Aida is available to stream on Curzon Home Cinema on 22nd January.

David Willoughby

Follow David on @DWill_Crackfilm

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