This powerful film from Bosnian director Jasmila Zbanic is woven around the horrific massacre of the male population of Srebenica on July 11, 1995, at the height of the Bosnian war.
That day, after two years of siege, heavily armed Serbian soldiers overrun the small town, outgunning the United Nations troops protecting its 30,000 inhabitants.
As the catastrophe unfolds, the Dutch-speaking UN representatives try in vain to reach their superiors to call for the promised air strikes.
Aida (Jasna Juricic), a former schoolteacher working as a translator for the UN staff, runs around the UN compound relaying messages to the bewildered people.
As bombs hit the town we see her husband (Izudin Bajrovic) and two teenage sons (Boris Ler and Dino Bajrovic) grabbing a few possessions as they abandon their home.
Cinamatographer Christine Maie captures poignant scenes of masses of desperate people racing through the streets in search of safety.
But where can they go? Thousands pour into the UN compound until the barrier goes down. There is no more for any more.
An aerial view shows a sea of people stretching into the distance, waiting outside for hour on hour, with little food or water, no toilet facilities – a heart-breaking depiction of helpless refugees hoping for some safe haven.
Aida, with her blue UN lanyard around her neck, knows she can leave with the rest of the UN staff but she is determined to save her husband and her boys.
We see her running frantically through the compound, finding places to hide them, bending rules, begging her superiors to add their names to the UN list.
The UN leaders are clearly inadequate to cope with the crisis. They give in to the demands of the Serb leader, General Ratko Mladic (Boris Isakovic), and let him and his armed soldiers inside the UN compound.
Mladic tries to reassure the crowd, distributing some food and water and promising them buses will take them to a safe place.
Tension mounts as he tells them: Only women and children in the buses.
What about the men?
There are hysterical scenes as the men and boys are taken away. Later it emerges that that more than 8000 have been slaughtered in cold blood.
Writer-director Zbanic, herself a survivor of the war (in her late teens she lived through the three-year siege of Sarajevo), says the story of the Srebenica genocide has always haunted her.
“We were driven by the need to tell this story,” she says.
“It is a story not only about Bosnians but about human beings and how we behave towards each other when we are unleashed from morality.”
Quo Vadis, Aida was nominated for Best International Feature Film in the 2021 Academy Awards (it was beaten by the Danish comedy Another Round).
Ratko Mladic is serving a life sentence for genocide and crimes against humanity.
Quo Vadis, Aida is showing at UWA’s Somerville Auditorium until Sunday, January 16, as part of the Perth Festival LotteryWest film season.
Watch the trailer…