'Quo Vadis, Aida?' Asks: Where Does A Society Go After War Ends? Jasmila Zbanic's Oscar-nominated film dramatizes the genocide of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995. Aida is a former teacher working as a translator for U.N. forces.

'Quo Vadis, Aida?' Asks: Where Does A Society Go After War Ends?

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The Bosnian War ended 25 years ago, but remains are still being found in mass graves, and the region remains haunted by that conflict. A new film tells the story of the genocide that finally led to NATO's intervention in 1995. It's called "Quo Vadis, Aida?," and it's a nominee for this year's Oscars. Bilal Qureshi reports.

BILAL QURESHI, BYLINE: Filmmaker Jasmila Zbanic was 17 when the Bosnian War began in 1992.

JASMILA ZBANIC: It started like riots on Congress in January in U.S. - just some masked crazy people coming out. And we all thought, in a few days, it will be over. You know, I was happy when this happened because I thought, oh, what a cool thing not to go to school and have whole city stopped. So many crazy things are happening. We really didn't believe it will be war.

QURESHI: In reality, Bosnia became the longest and bloodiest European conflict since World War II.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Shouting in non-English language).

QURESHI: The ethnic cleansing and the international community's reluctance to act formed Jasmila Zbanic as a young woman and as an artist.


QURESHI: "Quo Vadis, Aida?" tells the story of the defining moment in that war - the genocide of more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys, civilians, by Serbian forces in the city of Srebrenica.


JASNA DJURICIC: (As Aida) You promised us that Serbs would not enter the town, that you would protect us.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) I didn't promise anything.

QURESHI: The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival last fall.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: I was absolutely gobsmacked by it.

QURESHI: CNN anchor Christiane Amanpour covered Bosnia as a young war reporter.

AMANPOUR: It was the very first time since the Second World War that that kind of fascist, genocidal politics took place in Europe in, by the way, the full satellite TV zone. And the governments were watching this unfold and doing nothing until Srebrenica.

QURESHI: But "Quo Vadis, Aida?" is not journalism. It's a cinematic drama.

ZBANIC: Media are dealing with numbers or shocking images, but cinema allows us to identify with characters and spend time with them and be with their decisions, having feeling it in real time.

QURESHI: The character at the center of Jasmila Zbanic's film is a woman named Aida, who is working as a translator at the U.N. base in Srebrenica.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, non-English language spoken).

DJURICIC: (As Aida) Srebrenica is in U.N. safe zone, and your mission is to protect people.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, non-English language spoken).

ZBANIC: And with this U.N. badge, she thinks she has privilege because not only that U.N. was in charge of protecting people but because she works for them. She felt she's part of U.N. and safe, so she believed her family is also safe.

QURESHI: But Aida is Bosnian. Refugees and desperate Muslim families, including her own, are huddled outside the gates of the U.N. base as Serbian forces march toward the crowd. They're refused protection.


DJURICIC: (As Aida) Please put my family on the list.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) We're dealing with the lives of thousands of people right now. If I add their names, I'll be jeopardizing the safety of all those with U.N. identity cards.

QURESHI: "Quo Vadis, Aida?" is an immersive and intimate war film. The music doesn't swell, and there are no harrowing montages of violence or widescreen battles.

ZBANIC: I just respect audience very much. And I know that audience can imagine many things, so I didn't show blood and violence in an obvious way. I really think we don't have to see men in blood to understand they were all killed. And also, out of respect for survivors, you know, I really wanted to treat every fact and every emotion as truthful as possible because I knew they will be watching film as well.

QURESHI: For some viewers, the results were too real to watch.

AMIR HUSAK: I can tell you that many of my friends and family reported not being able to finish the film in one sitting.

QURESHI: Amir Husak is a Bosnian professor of media studies at The New School in New York.

HUSAK: It is a collective trauma that we speaking about, and it brings back many painful memories.

QURESHI: The film's title, "Quo Vadis, Aida?," taken from the apocryphal Christian tradition, asks the question at the heart of the film's story. Where is Aida going? And where does a society go after a war ends?

For NPR News, I'm Bilal Qureshi.


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