Talk about a film that’s hard to watch! This Oscar nominee from Bosnia and Herzegovina tells the horrifying story of the days leading up to the 1995 massacre of 8,000+ Bosnian Muslim men and boys from the town of Srebrenica. The central character is Aida (Jasna Duricic), a school teacher from the town and also a translator for the UN peacekeeping forces there during the wars that tore apart the former Yugoslavia. When the Bosnian Serbian army rolls into town, despite the fact that the United Nations had declared it a UN safe area two years earlier, the Muslim citizens flee to the nearby UN camp looking for shelter and safety. Aida’s husband and sons are among those fleeing. But as she can see from inside, the UN troops are left high and dry by the UN command in New York, and they’re outgunned by Serbian Gen. Ratko Mladic (Boris Isakovic) and his army. And as the time ticks by Aida does everything she can to save her family, though if you know the history, you know it cannot end well.

Aida’s job as a translator forces her to listen to and pass on lies from the UN to the Bosnian crowd promising them safety. She also has to convey Serbian promises she knows won’t be kept to the Dutch UN officers. She’s a powerless witness to the farce that is being played out with her friends’, neighbors’, and family’s lives at stake.

The film had me yelling at the screen, feeling Aida’s desperation to change the trajectory. Mladic and his men come off as pure evil. It was so upsetting that I reached out to a Bosnian friend for a bit of context. And she has this to say: “Though these villains are Serbian, it does not mean that they did these things because they are Serbian. Not all Serbians are bad people. These are criminals who happen to be Serbian.”  And that is exactly how you feel watching them. Evil thugs drunk on power.

I hope a lot of people see this film. It’s incredibly well done. By using a mother-wife-teacher as the central character the film is grounded in a deep human pathos. And Serbian actress Jasna Đuričić gives a stunning performance as Aida. For those who don’t know the history, you’ll no doubt be disgusted and sickened by the actions of the Serbian army and appalled by the UN’s toothless complicity in the massacre, and probably want to do some reading up on what exactly happened before and after. And like me, don’t be surprised if you find yourself screaming at the screen.

Director Jasmila Žbanić had this to say about her film: “This film is about a woman caught in a male game of war. It is about courage, love and resilience – and also about what happens if we fail to react on time to warning signs. I survived the war in Bosnia. One day you have everything, and the other day most of the things you know no longer exist. Just because we deem certain things unimaginable, doesn’t mean they cannot happen.”

[Mainstream Chick’s take: This film is indeed a difficult, though quietly powerful film to see. Knowing the subject matter and outcome all too well – having worked in news throughout the 1990s – I was hesitant to put myself through it, but felt compelled when it was nominated for an Oscar for Best International Feature Film. I don’t know if it can/will win, but the nomination is a victory in itself, shining a light back on a largely forgotten war and massacre that can and should serve as a cautionary tale. Again. -hb]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *