It’s only January, but here’s a shoe-in for most upsetting film of the year. Wait. Scratch that. I recently recommended an emotionally devastating drama to my cousin, who said, “Sounds great!” and proceeded to get stoned and watch Dude, Where’s My Car? instead. Not to generalise, but escapism has a lot going for it right now.
So let me put it another way. Jasmila Zbanic’s offering is as suspenseful as The Great Escape and features a bunch of children so cute they belong in a John Lewis ad.
Srebrenica, 1995. Aida (Jasna Djuricic; think Isabelle Huppert without the death stare) is a Bosnian translator for the UN and privy to conversations that make clear the Muslim community in her home town are in danger. She’s safe, thanks to her job; but the same can’t be said of her husband (Izudin Bajrovic) and two adult sons (Boris Ler; Dino Bajrovic). Our heroine’s new, self-appointed mission: to protect the ones she loves.
Writer-director Zbanic finds neat ways to change the pace. After a horrendous day, two young UN workers smoke a spliff and share it with Aida, who starts giggling, with genuine happiness, as the couple kiss. Later, as Muslim men are brought to their final destination, the camera lingers on a kid on a bike. The kid kills time, seconds before a slaughter, and both realities feel solid to the touch.
The finale, meanwhile, both contradicts and amplifies everything that’s come before. In this kaleidoscopic take on betrayal, there’s room for spotless minds and so much delight.
Quo Vadis, Aida? is Bosnia and Herzegovina’s entry for best international feature film at the 2021 Oscars. It would be excellent if it won.
141mins, 15. Curzon Home Cinema