‘Srebrenica is turning into a slaughterhouse,” says a voice on a radio in an opening scene of “Quo Vadis, Aida?” a drama that remembers the Srebrenica massacre, a war horror that too many people have preferred to forget
As its title character navigates a nightmare to keep her family alive, the movie (opening theatrically March 12 and streaming March 15) also qualifies as a harrowing thriller with a terrifically courageous heroine.
Bosnian writer-director Jasmila Žbanić takes us back to 1995, whenSerbian soldiers, under the command of general and war criminal Ratko Mladic, took control of the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, a designated safe zone. Ethnic cleansing occurred: The Serbs killed more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys and raped women.
Combining actual and fictional characters, the drama centers on a schoolteacher named Aida (Jasna Đuričić), who works as a translator at a Dutch-operated United Nations encampment. There, she rushes around, assisting doctors and high-ranking officials like Col. Karremans (Johan Heldenbergh) and top underling Franken (Raymond Thiry).
The Serbian tanks advance, and 30,000 residents flock to the camp, but the Dutch allow only 5,000 into the compound. Armed Serbs, violating U.N. policy, enter the site. With the U.N. ineffective in preventing Serbian aggression — when the colonel calls headquarters for assistance, he learns that the entire chain of command is on vacation— the swaggering Mladic (Boris Isakovic) and his men are practically running the show.
Soon the Serbs are separating men and women and herding townsfolk onto buses that, despite Mladic’s rosier statements, bring to mind the trains used by the Nazis.
The movie’s dramatic thrust comes largely from the attempts of Aida to locate and ensure the safety of her husband (Izudin Bajrovic) and two sons (Boris Ler, Dino Bajrovic), one of them 17, the other slightly older. Her efforts prove, despite her U.N. A-list status, potentially impossible.
Dramatic films about genocide are often problematic. A fictional depiction of a subject so horrific can easily trivialize it. But, with her sensitive, clear-eyed, deeply human tone, Zbanic, who lived in Bosnia when the Srebrenica massacre took place, has created a moving tribute to the dead and the survivors. The drama never feels phony and, despite containing almost no on-screen violence, conveys the horror of the mass killings — a quality achieved with a resonant sense of dread.
Zbanic has also made an angry film that condemns the international community for its indifference to the events of 1995.
For the movie’s merits as a thriller and a drama, credit goes to Jaroslaw Kaminski’s taut editing and to Djuricic’s sensational lead performance. One of the most formidable movie mothers you’ll ever see, Đuričić’s Aida is a force of fearlessness as she maneuvers and pleads for the safety of her children.
She also shines in lighter scenes, as when she’s interacting with family, or smoking a joint with colleagues, or, in a perfect closing moment, feeling hopeful.
Quo Vadis, Aida?
Starring: Jasna Đuričić, Johan Heldenbergh, Raymond Thiry, Boris Isaković
Written and directed by: Jasmila Žbanić
Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes
“The Inheritance” (streaming Friday at the Roxie virtual cinema) delivers a 100-minute rush of black heritage and culture as filmmaker Ephraim Asili mixes fiction and archival footage to consider liberation struggles in the 1980s and ongoing. Asili looks back at the Philadelphia police bombing of the black liberation group Move, which killed 11 people and destroyed more than 60 houses in 1985, and draws on his own experiences in a black radical collective, in this feature-film debut.
Protagonist Julian (Eric Lockley), assisted by his girlfriend, Gwen (Nozipho Mclean), has turned the West Philadelphia home he inherited from his grandmother into a socialist household for black writers and activists.
Members attend house meetings, vote on group policy (shoelessness is required), perform chores, discuss social-justice issues and problematic roommates, and decide what sort of presentations they should host. A poetry reading features real-life spoken-word artist Ursula Rucker.
Amid such activity, Asili’s kinetic camera captures the house’s gold mine of black cultural and political items — books, jazz LPs, magazines, posters, and other materials.
Interspersed with the fictional material are archival clips of the Move bombing and ensuing fire, and of trailblazing congresswoman Shirley Chisholm.
The acting is uneven, and the overall picture sometimes feels more crazy-quilty than unified. But the film’s merits outweigh such grievances.
Asili has made an excitingly alive and innovative cinematic collage that remembers the past and embraces identity, community and equality.
With: Eric Lockley, Nozipho Mclean, Ursula Rucker, Shirley Chisholm
Written and directed by: Ephraim Asili
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes