This year’s Best International Feature Film Oscar predictably went to the thoroughly entertaining Another Round, but there’s little doubt that the Danish film’s main competition was Bosnian war drama Quo Vadis, Aida? by Jasmila Žbanić, whose 2006 feature Grbavica won the Golden Bear at the 56th Berlinale. Possibly too bleak for the Academy, who clearly yearned for escapism above war crimes, Žbanić’s harrowing retelling of the 1995 Srebrenica Massacre follows a Bosnian UN translator who is torn between duty and family as a genocide becomes increasingly inevitable.
By zooming in on the story of the titular Aida, the filmmaker creates an ode to human resilience; she deftly narrows the scope of the narrative without ever diminishing the scale of a real-life atrocity or tumbling into melodrama. Throughout, Žbanić shows us that passivity in the face of conflict is an active crime and exposes the real-life sins of organisations that were meant to protect the persecuted; but in doing so, she never falters in reminding us that behind statistics are individuals. It’s a masterful balancing act, at the heart of which is a towering performance by Serbian actor Jasna Đuričić, whose rich and complex portrayal complements the powerful and pacey direction. Both Žbanić and Đuričić’s combined efforts make Quo Vadis, Aida? this year’s most devastating, vital and compassionate piece of filmmaking.
Quo Vadis, Aida? / Directed by Jasmila Žbanić (Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2020), with Jasna Đuričić. Starts August 05.