Quo Vadis, Aida? Movie Review
In the unsettling Oscar-nominated Quo vadis, Aida?, a woman desperately attempts to save her family in the face of genocide while audiences must put their Google hats on to understand the looming atrocities and what the hell “Quo Vadis, Aida?” means.
Written and directed by Jasmila Zbanic, Quo vadis, Aida? is a starkly enthralling if cold drama depicting the days leading up to the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, which has been labeled genocide by the international community. More than 8,000 people were murdered at the hands of the Serbian army, despite the United Nations having a direct presence in the conflict.
Quo vadis, Aida?, which apparently means “Where are you going, Aida?,” follows a UN translator named Aida, played by Jasna Djuricic. Djuricic is fantastic in the film, expressing the anxiety, desperation, and outright fear of a woman who holds just enough power to give her hope of salvation, but perhaps not enough to make a difference in the end.
Why distributor Neon opted not to translate the title from a language few people speak is beyond me, though I’m likely the only one to care or even make mention of it in a movie review. But Zbanic opts to drop us into the thick of things with not much additional assistance, forcing us to piece together what is happening as things escalate. It’s not the biggest of issues, but a little more historical context would have helped; there is an assumptive quality to the film that doesn’t entirely satisfy.
And yet, Quo vadis, Aida? operates with a constant sense of dread and foreboding, filling its boiling pot methodically and without restraint until it explodes. It’s hard to take your eyes off the screen even if much of the movie is simply setting the stage for its sobering climax. Zbanic’s intention is to demonstrate the sense of hopelessness and fear among the refugees and utter uselessness and false promises of the United Nation’s protections, and in that regard the movie accomplishes its task splendidly.
But as excellent as Djuricic is, and as emotionally resonant as her character is, the decision to focus so exclusively on her--there are other characters, yes, but almost always seen through Aida’s eyes--doesn’t fully work. There’s a coldness to Quo vadis, Aida?, its matter-of-fact approach sacrificial of something bigger, more powerful. It comes ever close to something great, but never entirely does.
Quo vadis, Aida? is worth seeing for its portrayal of a horrifying historical event and for Djuricic’s head-turning performance, even if it doesn’t fully live up to expectations.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.